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Le Blon, Jacques Christophe (DNB00)


LE BLON (LE BLOND), JACQUES CHRISTOPHE (1670–1741), painter, engraver, and printer in colours, born at Frankfort-on-the-Maine in 1070, was related to, and perhaps a descendant of, Michel Le Blon (1587-1660), engraver and agent to the Duke of Buckingham. He was also connected with the artist family of Merian. Le Blon is stated to have studied engraving at Zurich under Conrad Meyer, and at Paris under Abraham Bosse. In 1696 he went to Rome in the train of the imperial ambassador, Graf von Martinitz, and studied painting there under Carlo Maratti. He met there the Dutch painter, Bonaventura Overbeck, whom he accompanied to Amsterdam. Here he settled for some time as a painter of miniatures and small domestic subjects. Here also he invented and brought to perfection a new method of printing engravings in colour to imitate paintings, based to some extent on the method of the old chiaroscuro wood-engravers in Italy. Le Blon's process consisted in printing on the same sheet of paper successively from three mezzotint plates, each in one of the three primary colours, red, blue, and yellow. The plates were occasionally touched up with the burin or the dry-point. Le Blon made his first essays about 1704 at Amsterdam with a 'Nymph and Satyr' of his own painting, a portrait of General Salisch, governor of Breda, and a 'Repentant Magdalen.' Le Blon wished to obtain the privilege of a monopoly for his process, and on the death of his wife and child in 1715, visited the Hague and Paris for that purpose, but without success, and eventually came to England. In London he was patronised by Colonel Guise, the well-known amateur, whom he bad known in Amsterdam, and by the Earl of Halifax. Guise became in 1720 the director of a company of noblemen and other gentlemen to employ Le Blon to produce pictures in colours at a cheap rate. This 'Picture Office' issued a number of coloured engravings, which attracted much attention, but it soon became evident that the process was too expensive to make the business a success, and after some mismanagement and recriminations on both sides the company failed and Le Blon became a bankrupt. He had more success with his anatomical plates, which were shown with great approbation to the members of the Royal Society. Le Blon also originated a scheme of large tapestry works, for which a company was also formed and a patent obtained from the king. The works were actually set up at Chelsea and the cartoons of Raphael taken in hand, when funds ran short, the patent lapsed, and this scheme also ended in the bankruptcy of Le Blon. Le Blon, whose schemes began to be looked upon as bubbles, and who had already been imprisoned, fled to the Hague in 1732, and thence to Paris. In Paris he made another attempt to establish his process of engraving in colours, and in 1737 and 1738 obtained patents for twenty years from Louis XV. With the help of his pupils he executed a fine coloured engraving of tne king, and also one of Cardinal Fleury after Rigaud. He did not, however, meet with greater success here, and died in hospital in poor circumstances on 16 May 1741.

Le Blon was a clever artist, but careless in his life, and a bad man of business. Some fine engravings executed by his process are now of great rarity and highly valued. The best collection of them is that formed by Heineken in the print room at Dresden, but there are some good examples in the print room at the British Museum. The works include pictures after Titian, Cignani, Correggio, and Annibale Carracci; the portrait of Carondelet after Raphael; portraits of Rubens, Vandyck, and the children of Charles I after Vandyck; William III and Mary, George II and Queen Caroline, and other portraits. Le Blon published in 1730 in London an account of his process in French and English, entitled 'Coloritto, or the Harmony of Colouring in Painting, reduced to Mechanical Practice.' This was incorporated after his death in 'L'Art d'imprimer les Tableaux, trait6 d'apres les ecrits, les operations et les instructions verbales de J. C. Le Blon.' by A. Gautier de Montdorge, Paris, 1st edit. 1756, 2nd edit. 1768. Le Blon also translated into English and published in 1732 in London 'The Beau Ideal.' from the French of L. ten Kate. He had as pupils Jean and Jacob Ladmiral, brothers, who went to Amsterdam, and practised colour-printing there with success, J. Robert, and Jacques Fabien Gautier Dagoty, who inherited Le Blon's privilege in Paris. With his sons Dagoty practised and improved Le Blon's process, and even claimed the actual invention as his own. Le Blon, though not the discoverer of printing in colours, may be regarded as the inventor of the modern system of chromolithography and similar processes of colour-printing.

[Walpole's Anecd. of Painting, ed. Wornum ; Vertue's MSS. (Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 23076) ; Laborde's Histoire de la Gravure en Maniere Noire ; Mariette's Abecedario ; Bosse's Arte de Graver ; Hiissgen's Nachrichten von Frankfurter Knnstlern ; Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Bep. App. x. p. 247.]

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