Artibus et Historiae no. 52 (XXVI)

2005, ISSN 0391-9064

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MARIA GORDON-SMITH - Jean Pillement at the Court of King Stanisław August of Poland (1765-1767)

After a two-year stay at the Imperial Court of Maria Theresa and Francis I in Vienna (1763-1765), during which he proved his creative talents in a variety of media, Jean Pillement accepted the invitation of the newly elected King of Poland, Stanisław August Poniatowski, to come to Warsaw in order to take on the post of court painter. It would prove to be an exacting appointment. The young King well educated and well travelled (he had sojourned at the courts of Dresden, Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris, London and St. Petersburg) was a genuine lover of the arts, a discerning collector and strove to create an enlightened court by bringing to Warsaw architects, painters and sculptors, theatre, opera and ballet artists and generally create favourable conditions for learning, the arts and art collecting. This ambitious programme, however, placed on his artists stringent demands dictated by Stanisław August according to his own vision of what he wished to be done. It was particularly tedious for such a free spirit like Pillement, but he obediently complied with the King's wishes by executing multiple orders not necessarily related to his art and ranging from the project of a royal monogram; a project of gondolas; another of Rococo wall brackets; sketches of paintings of history inspired by texts by Plutarch, Titus Livius and Suetonius presented according to the written descriptions of the King; furthermore, views of antique ruins after Piranesi: the Acqua Julia and the temple of Minerva Medici, both in Rome. And finally - patriotic Polish allegorical compositions. Mercifully, the King's orders included also topics in which Pillement excelled, namely Rococo wall decorations for the King's study and two pairs of large, superb panels for the royal summer residence of Ujazdów, which are now in the collection of the Petit Palais in Paris. Pillement also painted numerous pastoral landscapes for the king's private apartments. Four of them are used today as overdoors at the Royal Castle. Following the example of Stanisław August, prominent aristocratic families, such as the Czartoryskis, the Branickis, the Potockis, the Sapiehas, the Zamoyskis and the Mniszechs also collected Pillement's drawings and paintings. In appreciation of Pillement's services, the King granted him a royal patent to the title of Premier Peintre du Roy (also appears spelled as Roi) de Pologne.

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