Great French artist who was rejected by the Motherland, but sheltered abroad
Pierre Le Gros (April 12, 1666 May 3, 1719) is a famous French sculptor of the late 17th early 18th centuries, a prominent representative of the Baroque style in European fine art. He was a genius master of the religious genre, the best masterpieces of his work were created by the orders of the Catholic Church, and the artist’s biography is closely connected with Italy.
Pierre Le Gros had a close genetic relationship with art on both his paternal and maternal lines. Besides him, talented artists were his father and two uncles Gaspard and Balthazard Marsy, as well as his half-brother Pierre Lepautre.
Biography of Pierre Le Gros
Pierre Le Gros was born on April 12, 1666 in the capital of France in the family of the court sculptor, the all-powerful Louis XIV. The father of the future artist, who was also called Pierre Le Gros, devoted most of his career to decorating Versailles and created many masterpieces for the royal palace and gardens. Unfortunately, the boy’s mother died when he was not yet three years old, and his father married a second time to a girl named Marie, the daughter of the famous engraver Jean Le Pautre.
Pierre Le Gros did not have siblings, but from childhood he developed a good relationship with his stepmother. His father taught him the basics of sculptural art, and his step-grandfather Jean Le Potre taught drawing. Thanks to these lessons, the young man did not even have to enter the National Academy of Arts, since he perfectly mastered the wisdom of the profession of a sculptor at home.
In 1686, 20-year-old Pierre won the competition for the Rome Prize in sculpture and earned the right to a retirement trip to Italy. For the next four years, he stayed at home, helping his father with his work, and only in 1690 did he finally leave for Rome.
At that time, the French Academy in the capital of Italy experienced serious difficulties due to lack of funds.
Louis XIV almost did not allocate money to finance the institution, as they were sorely lacking to wage wars with European neighbors. Therefore, most of the students were forced to independently search for sources of income and find customers.
Thanks to the help of the engraver Nicolas Dorigny, who had lived in Rome for a long time, Pierre Le Gros soon became a participant in the competition for the decoration of the interior decoration of the Jesuit cathedral church of Ile Gesu in Rome. As a result of a sharp struggle with other candidates, he received an order for the production of a sculptural allegorical group and a statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
The director of the French Academy in Rome, learning that the young sculptor had taken part in the competition without permission, immediately kicked him out. This event became defining in the artist’s further career, and he firmly decided to stay in Italy forever. Le Gros brilliantly performed the work for the Jesuit order and by the end of the 1690s had acquired the fame of a genius sculptor.
From that moment on, he never again lacked orders, opened his own workshop in the center of Rome, in Palazzo Farnese, hired many students and worked hard to create sculptural compositions. In addition to the Jesuits, the artist’s frequent customers were Dominican monks, whose Master Antonin Cloche, being French by birth, personally patronized the sculptor.
last years of life
In 1700, Pierre Le Gros was accepted as a member of the Academy of Saint Luke, and a year later the artist married a young French girl, Marie Petit. Unfortunately, this marriage lasted only three years, and soon after the birth of her second son, the spouse died with the baby. Left with his young son in his arms, the sculptor soon married a second time. From this marriage, he had two more daughters and a son.
In 1714, the artist’s father died in Paris, and Le Gros went to the capital of France to settle the formalities for the registration of inheritance rights. Upon arrival, he met a sharply negative attitude towards himself from fellow artists and high society in Paris. His application for admission to the Royal Academy of Arts was rejected, and the management of the institution openly showed dislike for the sculptor.
Therefore, in 1716, Pierre Le Gros returned to Rome, where new troubles awaited him. Together with four of his colleagues, he refused to accept the new rules of the Academy of St. Luke, which seriously infringed on the financial freedoms of artists. As a result, five rioters were expelled from the association and automatically lost the opportunity to work with customers in Rome.
The sculptor had to look for work in other regions of Italy
He left for Turin, where he created a number of relief compositions for the Duke of Savoy. By that time, the artist was experiencing serious health problems due to kidney disease, he needed an urgent operation, but the doctors were not sure of its successful outcome.
The master’s body, weakened by ailments and professional problems, could not withstand excessive stress. On May 3, 1719, Pierre Le Gros died suddenly in Rome from bilateral pneumonia at the age of 53. He was buried in the Church of Saint Louis of France in an unmarked grave, which still has no worthy monument.
The most famous works of Pierre Le Gros
The ingenious sculptor presented to mankind many skillful masterpieces. And yet, the most famous works of Pierre Le Gros are rightfully considered:
- “Veturia” (1695) the only work of the master, which today is outside of Italy. The sculpture of a beautiful woman has been decorating the luxurious gardens of Versailles for over 200 years.
- “Religion banishing heresy” (1695) the work that made the artist famous and became the reason for his expulsion from the French Academy. In allegorical form, the sculptor depicted the victory of the true Christian faith over the teachings of Protestants.
- The Silver Statue of Saint Ignatius (1699) is a masterpiece that adorns the tomb of the founder of the Jesuit order in the Ile-Jezu Roman Church. A hundred years after its creation, the sculpture was destroyed and then restored thanks to the efforts of the great Antonio Canova.
- The Polychrome Statue of Stanislav Kostka (1703) is a sculptural composition installed on the grave of a young Jesuit monk, canonized by the Catholic Church. In addition to white marble and black limestone, the artist used many colored ornamental stones to create this work.
Pierre Le Gros is an artist with a difficult fate, who, in his youth, was not needed by the Motherland. But he managed to achieve great professional and creative success in his career in Italy, and his creations will forever remain a part of European and world culture.