Jean-Baptiste Pillement
Lyon 1727-Lyon 1808
A Mill beside a River, Washerwomen in the foreground

PROVENANCE: Anonymous sale, Sothebys London, 5 July 1993, lot 91; With Christina van Marle, The Netherlands; Maria Gordon-Smith, London.

Signed Jean Pillement [lower left], pastel on gesso laid on canvas

450 x 720 mm. (17 x 28 3/8 in.)


Pillement was born in Lyon and was descended from a long line of painters and after early training in his native Lyon he worked briefly at the Gobelins factory in Paris, before going to Madrid in 1745. In a three year stay he firmly established his reputation. His designs for the Dutch consul at Seteais, near Sintra in Portugal are the best known achievement of this period. He was then offered the appointment of painter to the King of Portugal but, he avoided such a commitment and travelled to London. According to Peter Mitchell, In the absence of modern scholarship, knowledge of Pillements long, ten year stay in England is incomplete, although he stayed longer in England than in any other country. 1 Through his connections with English and French engravers and print dealers, in London and Paris, his gifts for draughtsmanship and inventive design reached a wide audience and, as intended, his prints were used as pattern books for fabrics, wallpaper, ceramics and wide variety of decorative schemes. Pillement understood the English desire for landscape and developed his original interpretation of the genre, derived from Nicholas Berchem, Claude and Joseph Vernet and Franois Boucher. Once the success of this formula had been established, the artist maintained the same style, unaffected by changes in taste. Thus among his exhibits at the Society of Artists (1760-2) and the Free Society of Artists (1763, 1773 and 1779) were landscapes with cattle, travellers, and coast scenes predominated. The same applies to the hundreds of works dispersed through auction in March, 1761, from the collection of the French print dealer and publisher, Charles Leviez, prior to Pillements departure from London. Among a number of English patrons, the actor David Garrick was the most notable. In 1772, the artist painted eleven pictures for Garricks villa near Hampton Court, and their surviving correspondence reflects the excellent relations that Pillement enjoyed with his English patrons.

After London Pillement made a brief visit to Italy before working in Vienna, at the Hofburg, 1763-4, and for the Prince of Liechtenstein, before moving on to further decorative interiors for the King of Poland, in 1766, and at the Royal Castle in Warshaw. He was invited to work at St Petersburg but went with his family to Avignon. By 1780 he was again in Portugal, and during a stay in Oporto he established a teaching studio and taught a number of Portuguese painters, among who Joaquim Marques (1755-1822) is the most notable.

The present work is a characteristic example of Pillement working at his finest. A comparable picture, in the same technique, of a Landscape with Peasants Dancing by a Pool was recently on the market2. Pillement has been described by Maria Gordon-Smith, Pillement scholar and previous owner of this wonderful picture, the uncontested honour of being acknowledged as the greatest pastel landscape artist of the 18th Century3. The wooden stakes or pilings set into the waters edge at the left of the pastel are called pillements in French. One scholar has commented that this may have been intended as a sort of whimsical signature on the part of the artist, in a similar way to Francesco Zuccarelli uses a gourd in his pictures, see catalogue 13.

1.Peter Mitchell, Oxford New Dictionary of National Biography, in association with the British Academy from the earliest times to the year 2000, OUP, Vol 44, pp339-40.

2.Stephen Ongpin Fine Art, An Exhibition of Master Drawings, New York and London, 2008, number 16.

3.Maria Gordon-Smith, Pillement, Cracow, 2006, p.109.