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Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg

Society portrait painter Thomas Gainsborough (1727–88) depicts his close friend, the artist Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg (1740–1812), in stylish attire, gazing into the distance in a contemplative pose with his arms folded and resting on a collection of papers. Gainsborough has rendered the clothing with rapid strokes and fleeting touches. The feathered effect of the background washes is characteristic of Gainsborough, who employed a technique of thinning his paint in order to lay in large areas quickly. In contrast, there are thicker applications of paint, known as impasto, which are used to suggest the texture of the frills and folds of Loutherbourg’s shirt.

Loutherbourg was an established landscape artist in France but moved to London in 1768. He was employed by the actor David Garrick (1717–79) at Drury Lane Theatre, and continued under the management of Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816), where he was greatly admired for his elaborate set and stage designs. In 1782 he invented a mechanical theatre known as the 'Eidophusikon', a spectacle of music, coloured lights, and images. In London he made many friends within high artistic circles, Gainsborough among them. This portrait was exhibited at London’s Royal Academy in 1778, after the two friends, both academicians, had painted one another.

Currently on display

Thomas Gainsborough
c. 1777–78
Gallery 10
76.5 x 63.2 cm
Oil on canvas
Bourgeois Bequest, 1811
Accession number
Adopted in loving memory of Philip Poole-Wilson by his wife Mary, their children William, Michael and Œnone, and many friends, 2009