Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée (French, 1724 – 1805)

The Murder of Servius Tullius

Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée (French, 1724 – 1805), The Murder of Servius Tullius, King of Rome, c. 1770, signed, oil on canvas, 19.75″ x 24″

Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée was an accomplished French Neoclassical painter and teacher. He is often referred to as Lagrenée the elder, to distinguish him from his younger brother, Jean-Jacques Lagrenée, also an artist. Born in Paris, he showed promise in drawing and painting from an early age. During his youth, the French Royal Academy offered courses in life drawing and the principles of art. These courses gave academy members a chance to identify and nurture six of the most gifted young students in any given year and offer them free tuition, with a small stipend, for three years. The program was aimed at preparing these gifted students for the Prix de Rome competition. After being selected for and completing this three-year program, under the tutelage of Carle van Loo, Lagrenée won the Grand Prix de Rome on his first attempt in 1749, with the painting Joseph interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh (now lost).

As a student at the French Academy in Rome, Lagrenée was inspired by the work of Guido Reni (1575 – 1642) and Francesco Albani (1578 – 1660). Later in his career, Lagrenée acquired the epithet ‘the French Albani’ (l’Albane Francais).

After returning from Rome in 1753, Lagrenée set to work on a large painting The abduction of Dejaneira by the centaur Nessus (Louvre), which, when finished in 1755, earned him membership at the Royal Academy, by a unanimous vote. By this time, Lagrenée was already considered something of a celebrity.

Lagrenée’s career blossomed in Paris; he completed many important commissions for eminent patrons and submitted regular entries to the Paris Salons. His reputation caught the attention of Elizabeth Petrovna, Empress of Russia; and, in 1760, the Empress appointed Lagrenée her Principle Painter and Director of the Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg.

Lagrenée lived in St. Petersburg for two years and served as Director of the Imperial Academy of Arts. Upon his return to Paris he served as professor and rector of the French Royal Academy. Many scholars believe he is responsible for the French movement away from the ornate and frivolous Rococo style (a style of French art associated with the final heyday of the aristocracy before the revolution) toward the more ordered and austere Neoclassicism.

Lagrenée moved back to Italy, and from 1781 and 1787 he served as Director of the French Academy in Rome.

On his final return to Paris, Lagrenée was appointed to the position of curator, rector and Honorary Director of the Louvre, a position that he held until his death in 1805. In 1804, Napoleon conferred on him the highest decoration, the Légion d’Honneur, and on the 19th of June 1805 he died in the Louvre.

The Murder of Servius Tullius, King of Rome, a portrayal of the murder of the beloved 6th King of Rome (578–535 BC) by his daughter, Tullia, and her husband, Tarquinius Superbus, demonstrates Lagrenée’s Neoclassical style.