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Title Architectural Elements with Psyche Giving Gifts to her Sisters
Collection Victoria and Albert Museum
Artist attributed toLaguerre, Louis (French painter, 1663–1721, active in Great Britain)
Date Earliest about 1683
Date Latest 1721

This fragment of a mural painting was detached from the staircase of a house in Leadenhall Street, London. It shows architectural elements in trompe-l'oeil with a scene from the tale of Eros and Psyche. It is a good example of the decorative device in vogue during the late seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth century in England. Laguerre is known to have made a number of this kind of decoration in private houses and palaces all over the UK between 1683-84 and 1721.

Louis Laguerre was born in Paris and studied with the Jesuits before enrolling at the Académie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture. He worked with Charles Le Brun (1619-1690) before moving to England in 1683-84, where he spent the rest of his life. He specialised in decorative scheme in the Baroque manner, working for some time with Antonio Verrio (ca. 1639-1707), and achieved great success as a decorator.

Museum Number 727-1877
Subject figure; mythology (Psyche); interior; buildings and gardens
Measurements 299.4 × 324.6 cm
Material oil on plaster
Acquisition Details Purchased 1877.
Provenance Painted in a house in Leadenhall Street, London, for an unknown patron
Publications South Kensington Museum, List of Ojects in the Art Division, Acquired during the Year 1877, London, 1878, p. 61, Nos. 727 and 727 A and b; Croft-Murray, E., Decorative Painting in England 1537-1837, London, 1962, vol. I, p.252, no.16.

This work is a fragment of a wall painting originally in the staircase of a house in Leadenhall Street, London. Formerly given to Sir James Thornhill and assistants, it was re-attributed to Louis Laguerre and assistants by Croft-Murray (1962) on the ground of characteristic similarities with his work in the three female figures. Two other fragments originally accompanied 727-1877 and showed flying amorini and a red marble column with a gilt capital but they were apparently lost between 1992 and 2001. This painting within a painting apparently derives, with minor variations, from a print made by The Master of the Die (1530-1560) after Michiel Coxcie (1499-1592) (see British Museum, London - L,67.11 and Bartsch XV.216.49). The most famous version of the tale Eros and Psyche was narrated by the ancient Roman author Ovid and enjoyed great success during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The present scene refers to the beginning of the story when Psyche is offering her jealous sisters lavish presents she gained from her secret marriage with Eros, God of Love.

This wall painting was executed a secco, in oil on plaster, a technique that was apparently also used by Le Brun with whom Laguerre worked for some time before his departure to London. This technique as well as the fresco technique, which requires applying the paint in a wet support rather than dry, is particularly adapted to decorative purposes and the earliest examples can be found in the Roman decorative murals. This fragment is therefore a good example of the eighteenth-century English taste for such decorative device. The technique of trompe-l'oeil also allows providing grand design to domestic interiors in a much cheaper way. Although Laguerre was known for his Baroque decorations, the present painting shows some characteristic features of the forthcoming Neo-classical aesthetic.

Rights Owner © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Author Ana Debenedetti



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