French engraver and publisher James Merigot invigorated his scenes from across Europe with the spirit of his age. Working predominantly in London, he presented to his buyers vistas soaked in romanticism which celebrated the towering dominance of the Classical world on late 18th and early 19th century sensibilities.
Born in France, Merigot was the son of Jacques-François Mérigot (1720-1799), a publisher working in Paris. Trained at the Royal Academy in the French capital, Merigot would follow in his father’s footsteps. He first published his work in France about 1790. For unknown reasons, however, Merigot emigrated to Britain and was producing prints there by the end of the decade.
It was a move which worked in his favour. Merigot first found collaboration and success with the watercolourist John Warwick Smith (1749-1831). Merigot produced prints after his gloriously romantic scenes of the ‘Views of the Lakes of Cumberland.’ Merigot was successfully able to translate into black and white ink the evocations of atmosphere and soft diffusions of light injected gently into Smith’s original works.
Windemere snakes serpentine through giant hills, the use of shading conjuring depth and perspective. They loom on the horizon or stand proudly in the near distance. Cunning detail picks out the bending boughs of trees, littered with leaves.
The role Merigot was playing was a vital one. Prints were a key way through which works of art could be disseminated to wider audiences, printed in books and other publications. Merigot used a combination of etching and aquatint, intaglio printmaking processes through which chemical reactions and the decisive marking of lines on a metal plate would produce an image to be printed in ink. It was a time-consuming task which required much skill, yet the results could produce the atmospheric, detailed prints Merigot successfully executed.
Merigot continued to translate the works of other artists, suggesting that his skill had been noted and there was a growing demand for his expertise. The works of John Stoddart (1773-1856), Claude John Nattes (c.1765-1839), and Hugh William Williams (1773-1829) are all presented with the same stunning coherency as Merigot’s depictions of Smith’s works. To these Merigot added further illumination, hand-colouring the prints in vibrant colours. The effect is a stunning luminosity, building on the tonal work and creating pieces of a unique nature.
As well as these works, Merigot also dedicated a lot of time to his own, original prints, created from his own drawings and paintings. He is recorded as publishing his own views of the sights around Europe from 1798, including of Rome and, in 1801, ‘the plates and picturesque travels through Scandinavia.’ The British Museum holds prints by other engravers based on the originals by Merigot, suggesting they were of some note and useful documentations of life across Europe during the time.
The culmination of these works came in 1815 with the publication of Merigot’s ‘A Select Collection of Views and Ruins in Rome and its Vicinity Recently executed from drawings made upon the spot.’ Adapting the drawings he had made on his travels, Merigot presents prints of the ruined architectural glories of Ancient Rome. Neo-Classicism was in full swing during this time, and its veneration and celebration of the Classical world ensured great interest in works such as Merigot’s.
Merigot claimed uniqueness through the ‘peculiar accuracy’ of his works, adapted as they were from his on-the-spot drawings. He also focussed on both scenes well known, such as the Colosseum, and ‘new’ subjects not yet depicted by his contemporaries. Indeed, a painstaking detail lent to his depictions of the ruins of Rome offers both primacy of perspective and precision. To these, he added a romantic verve through the sweeping skies above and the considered application of surrounding trees and foliage. Merigot also adds figures to his scenes in order to emphasise the grandeur of these ruins. The effect is to conjure atmosphere and combine it with his sophisticated sense of detail which pays glorious homage to the legacy of Ancient Rome.
Merigot is also noted as an educator. In his later years, he published a serial series of instructions entitled ‘The Amateur’s Portfolio.’ These were intended to make lessons in all aspects of drawing and painting available to those who might not be able to attend the great artistic educational institutions.
Interestingly, a record remains of Merigot being robbed in 1823 by H. Schooley, who took from him 284 prints.
James Merigot translated with a suave hand the works of others and created his own which are filled to the brim with style, both artistic and befitting the spirit of his day. Today, a number of his works are held in the collections of the British Museum.
Born in France.
‘A Select Collection of Views and Ruins in Rome and its Vicinity Recently executed from drawings made upon the spot’ published.
‘Treatise on Practical Perspective’ published.
‘The Amateur’s Portfolio, being a Selection of Lessons calculated to make the Art of Drawing easy, and founded upon the Principles of Geometry and Perspective’ published.
Died in London, Britain.