In March 2016, a brand new Gravelot exhibition at Gainsborough’s House drew upon the impressive body of work in the house’s permanent collection.
Hubert-François Bourguignon, better known as Gravelot, was one of the most influential designers of the eighteenth century. Born in Paris in 1699, he studied in Rome before returning to the French capital and working under the painter François Boucher. In 1732 he emigrated to London, where he remained until 1745. During this period he played a central role in introducing Rococo style into British art and design.
While living in London Gravelot provided his services as a drawing-master; his pupils included the young Thomas Gainsborough, who arrived in the city as a thirteen-year-old apprentice in 1740. Gravelot also became deeply involved in the St. Martin’s Lane Academy, organised by William Hogarth and frequented by some of London’s leading artists. It was here that the Frenchman met many of his future collaborators.
This exhibition showcased his extraordinary versatility as a draughtsman, which the eighteenth century commentator on art George Vertue described as ‘a great and fruitful genius for designs’. The prints and drawings that featured in the display demonstrated Gravelot’s ability to operate across a variety of categories, producing work for a wide array of media: from book illustrations, graphic satire and printed ephemera, to snuff boxes, walking canes, silverware, medals and other forms of material culture. They also revealed the diverse sources from which Gravelot derived inspiration: from contemporary life and politics, to the natural world, historical narratives and classical literature.
The widespread distribution of these kinds of objects not only allowed Gravelot to gain fame among the British public, but also allowed his work to exert a profound and lasting impact on the development of eighteenth century British visual culture.
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