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The Wars of Louis XIV
50 hand-coloured prints. An early-18th-century set from the Hermitage collection

27 April 2001 - 15 September 2001

The graphic works from the State Hermitage collection comprise 45 prints and five works in watercolour and gouache, created by different artists at different times, ranging from the mid-17th century to the early 18th. They are linked by a common theme - the victories and defeats of Louis XIV (reigned 1643 - 1715). The set, which is thematically linked to the struggle to redraw the borders between France and the Netherlands, was probably acquired for the Russian imperial collection. All the prints have been heavily coloured with gouache and watercolour, often with abundant use of gold paint that imparts a particularly lively note. For the most part the prints bear the signature of the engraver or etcher who created them and of the artist who created the original on which they were based, but the identity of the painter or painters who coloured them in remains unknown. The fact that the prints were coloured with bright paints applied in a thick, pastose manner, with a predominance of reds, blues and yellows characteristic of the Baroque palette makes it possible to date this work to a period no later than the mid-18th century.

Hand-coloured, or illuminated, prints from the 17th and 18th centuries are fairly rare. The world's largest collections of graphic art do not possess a set of coloured prints like this one in the Hermitage.

The works on display depict events from European history in the period from the mid-17th century to 1715, when Louis XIV, the greatest of all European monarchs under whom France assumed a leading role on the continent, died.

The display includes portraits of the "Sun-King" Louis XIV and other outstanding figures of the age - the marshals of France Louis-François, duc de Boufflers, and the duc de Humières, the Austrian commander Eugene of Savoy and the English general, the Duke of Marlborough.

The subjects most frequently found on the prints in the Hermitage set are sieges of fortresses and the capture of cities. Such pieces include engravings produced after painted originals by Adam Frans van der Meulen (1632 - 1690), battle-painter to the King. From 1664 onwards Van der Meulen made nine journeys to sites of battles at which Louis XIV was present. Engravings after paintings by Van der Meulen dealing with the subjugation of the cities of Tournai, Courtrai, Douai, Audenarde (Oudenaarde) and Lille during the 1667 War of Devolution are included in the exhibition.

The engraving by R. Bonnart and Adrian Frans Baudouin (Boudewyns) after Van der Meulen's painted original The French Army outside the Fortress of Douai is a composition, rare in the artist's oeuvre, on the theme of the everyday life of soldiers in time of war.

The maps of the towns of Mardick and Bergues St-Winoc come from the Grand Beaulieu - the name given to the album of "the glorious victories of Louis the Great, produced from the drawings of the Chevalier de Beaulieu". This work, featuring large-format engravings illustrating the conquests of Louis XIV in the period from 1643 to 1692, together with maps, plans of towns and fortresses, and diagrams showing the location of forces during sieges and battles, was published between 1676 and 1694. Sebastien de Pontault de Beaulieu (? - 1674), a royal cartographer, military engineer and draughtsman was the author of the drawings. The engravings from them were executed by "N. Cochin" - a name that conceals two brothers, Nicolas and Noel - and also by members of another 17th-century dynasty of engravers, the Perelles.

Nine pages from an album including 56 prints that was created by German artists in the first half of the 18th century are devoted to the victories of the allied forces under Marlborough and Prince Eugene over Louis XIV's army in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701 - 14).

The set includes four decorative cartouches executed in watercolour and gouache without an engraved basis that were evidently intended for the decoration of dedicatory inscriptions or engraved compositions. They were created by the Dutch historical painter and engraver Ottomar Elliger III who came to St. Petersburg in 1727 and was appointed engraver "of prospects and architecture" at the Academy of Arts.

The exhibition also includes an enormous watercolour panorama of Amsterdam signed by Johaness van Kessel III, a painter of that city, and dated 1676 and several splendid engraved views of Amsterdam.

The creators of the engravings belong to different artistic schools but stylistically their works remain within the mainstream of the development of European engraving in the 17th century. All the prints were produced by burin engraving or etching and hand-coloured using watercolour and gouache with lacquer added, with the exception of John Smith's portrait of the Duke of Marlborough that was executed in the mezzotint technique.

Equestrian portrait of Louis XIV commanding his forces
Paul van Somer II after a painted original by A.F. van der Meulen
Larger view

Portrait of the English general John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough
John Smith after the original by Godfrey Kneller
Larger view

The siege of Mons by allied forces led by the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene
Johann August Corvinus after the original by Paul Decker II
Larger view

The French army commanded by the duc d'Orleans besieging the fortress of Bouchain in Flanders
Sebastian Le Clerc
Larger view


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