Jean Marie Delattre participated in the flourishing practice of print engraving over the span of the 18th and 19th centuries. Working in France, his skill in engaging with the latest practices saw him work for some of the great artisans of his time.
Engraving emerged in the sixteenth century as a manner through which works of art could be reproduced and distributed to a wider audience. The image is engraved onto a material such as wood and printed upon paper. By Delattre’s time, significant developments in both France and England saw engravings becoming increasingly used for mass printing. This, therefore, meant someone could, if they possessed the skill, quite easily make a living from the engraving trade. Someone like Delattre.
Delattre received training from the very best. He attended the engraving workshop of Jacques-Philippe Le Bas (1707-1783), who, renowned for his skill and tutoring, received students from across Europe. Indeed, after a period of time working for a publishing company in Paris, Delattre would cross the channel and find employment under a previous student of Le Bas’: William Wynne Ryland (1738-1783).
Under Ryland, Delattre began to develop a skill for a newer form of engraving, stipple engraving. Under Le Bas he would have most likely studied the traditional line engraving, in which lines are scored into the surface and executed in a manner that would reproduce depth and shadow. Ryland, however, was a propagator of stipple engraving, in which small dots are dispersed in various concentrations to reproduce the image with its shadow and light, its depth and its drama intact.
Delattre’s skills of translation are evident. His works retain the original essence as executed by the artist whilst also being shaped by Delattre’s accomplished hand. Billowing clouds are sophisticatedly cultured from a kaleidoscope of dots, building and building to create tone and depth. The end product is to set waxen clouds against a deep, dark sky. His depictions of people possess a spirited presence, expressions caught through effective flicks of his tools. The contortion of limbs is effectively translated through shadows which span across pasty skin. despite the sudden, stuttered manner of his execution, Delattre is able to create the smooth flow of silky fabrics.
The fruits of Delattre’s labour are evident in the bountiful employment he found. He often worked for booksellers and publishers, producing prints for works such as Samuel Johnson’s The Works of the English Poets. Significantly, after leaving Ryland’s workshop he became employed as principal assistant to Francesco Bartolozzi (1727-1815). Bartolozzi was one of the leading engravers of his time. Appointed as ‘Engraver to the King’ by King George III, he was also a founding member of the Royal Academy in London, despite the exclusion of engraving from the Academy as a medium of art in its own right. He was also a proponent of stipple engraving, so perhaps Delattre’s skill in this medium appealed to him. Whatever the case, Delattre was often called upon to execute works under Bartolozzi’s name or finish off works by less gifted employees.
In fact, there is an incident which highlights the tension between art and engraving which took place during Delattre’s time under Bartolozzi. Delattre was instructed by his employer to create an engraving of an artwork by John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Once the work was completed at a cost of 800 guineas, however, Copley was dissatisfied and refused to pay Delattre the remaining amount. Delattre, therefore, sued and took Copley to court. Here, a squabble would take place in which engravers turned up to support the quality of Delattre’s work, whilst Copley’s array of painting allies all castigated it as terrible. The knives were out, Copley had brought a blistering array of insults upon Delattre’s work, perhaps the case looked cut and dry.
Delattre, however, won, and Copley was forced to pay him the remaining fee.
Such a case of victory against a vicious storm desperately trying to tear Delattre down is a dramatic historical reputation. It quite overshadows the rest of Delattre’s accomplishments! He continued to find employment in a number of prominent and successful publishing firms and also founded his own during the 1770s with fellow French engraver Victor Marie Picot (1744-1802).
Nonetheless, the case, and the remaining works produced by Delattre, demonstrate the commendable efforts of engravers at this period of time. Not only did they have to fight against derision from the painting community, but their work was an incredibly time-consuming and patient practice. Delattre worked incredibly hard, and it is perhaps unfair to claim that engravings are only copies of a work that came before. They do, through their unique, painstaking medium, transform works and allow them to be appreciated by a wider audience.
A number of Delattre’s works are now held in the British Museum.
Born in Abbeville, France.
Travelled to England.
Returned to Paris for a short period. Worked for print sellers Esnauts and Rapilly.
Married Ann Davis.
Taken to court by John Singleton Copley for the quality of his work. Jury voted in Delattre’s favour.
Wife Ann Delattre died.
Died in Fulham, London.