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An Artist In Search Of Colour

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Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg (1740-1812) was born in Germany and studied in Strasburg and Paris. He became artistic adviser at the Drury Lane Theatre from 1771-81.

As an innovative set designer and scene painter, he helped to lay the foundations of pictorial illusion in stagecraft. After abandoning theatre in the 1780s, he became an important figure in British landscape painting.

The Science Museum holds one of his most famous works, ‘Coalbrookdale by Night’, 1801. This epitomises the romantic view of the growth of industry in its formerly pastoral setting.

The development of coke smelting in Shropshire in the 18th century revolutionised the production of iron and helped fuel the Industrial Revolution.

Coalbrookdale by Night © Science Museum / Science & Society

In the Science Museum Archives there is a letter from De Loutherbourg to Matthew Boulton, James Watt’s business partner.

He was desperate to find an ingredient for one of his colours, yellow copperas. The letter says:

“I am a little at leasure at present, and wanting it very much, even for the Small Pictures, wich you was so kind as to ask me to do for you”.

And what a difference the colour makes.

Ironworks, Coalbrookdale, 1805 © Science Museum / Science & Society

Ironworks, Coalbrookdale 1805 © Science Museum / Science & Society

Written by Jane Insley

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  1. Marcus de Mowbray

    Is Coalbrookdale by Night on view?

  2. mia

    Jane replied with information about the location of the painting,’Coalbrookdale by Night’: “You can find it in the Making of the Modern World Gallery (ground floor, left hand side).”

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