Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bourgeois, Peter Francis

BOURGEOIS, Sir PETER FRANCIS (1756–1811), painter, is said to have been descended from a family of some importance in Switzerland. His father was a watchmaker, residing in London at the time of his birth. He was intended for the army, and Lord Heathfield offered to procure him a commission, but he preferred to be an artist, and was encouraged in his choice of profession by Reynolds and Gainsborough. De Loutherbourg was his master, and he early acquired a reputation as a landscape-painter. In 1776 he set out on a tour through France, Holland, and Italy. Between 1779 and 1810, the year before his death, he exhibited 103 pictures at the Royal Academy and five at the British Institution. In 1787 he was elected an associate, and in 1793 a full member of the Royal Academy. In the following year he was appointed landscape-painter to George III.

Bourgeois owed his knighthood to Stanislaus, king of Poland, who in 1791 appointed him his painter and conferred on him the honour of a knight of the order of Merit, and his title was confirmed by George III. Although he appears to have been successful as a painter, he owed much of his good fortune to Joseph Desenfans, a picture-dealer, who was employed by Stanislaus to collect works of art, which ultimately remained on his hands. Bourgeois, who lived with Desenfans, assisted him in his purchases, and at his death inherited what, with some pictures added by himself, is now known as the Dulwich Gallery [College]. He died from a fall from his horse on 8 Jan. 1811, and was buried in the chapel of Dulwich College. He bequeathed 371 pictures to Dulwich College, with 10,000l. to provide for the maintenance of the collection, and 2,000l. to repair and beautify the west wing and gallery of the college. The members of the college, however, determined to erect a new gallery, and they and Mrs. Desenfans contributed 6,000l. apiece for this purpose, and employed Mr. (afterwards Sir) John Soane as the architect of the present buildings, which were commenced in the year of the death of Bourgeois, and include a mausoleum for his remains and those of Mr. and Mrs. Desenfans.

Although Bourgeois generally painted landscapes, he attempted history and portrait. Amongst his pictures were 'Hunting a Tiger,' Mr. Kemble as 'Coriolanus,' and 'A Detachment of Horse, costume of Charles I.' Twenty-two of his own works were included in his bequest to Dulwich College, where, besides landscapes, may now be seen 'A Friar kneeling before a Cross,' 'Tobit and the Angel,' and a portrait of himself. Though an artist of taste and versatility, his works fail to sustain the reputation which they earned for him when alive.

[Redgrave's Dict. of Artists, 1878; Bryan's Dict. (Graves); Annals of the Fine Arts, 1818; Warner's Cat. Dulwich Coll. MSS.]

C. M.