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Sir Peter Francis Bourgeois

(1756—1811) landscape painter and founder of the Dulwich Picture Gallery


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(b London, 1756; d London, 7 Jan. 1811). English painter and collector of Swiss parentage (his father was a wealthy émigré watchmaker). He enjoyed some success as a painter (mainly of landscapes), but his work as an artist is now forgotten. His importance lies rather in his role in creating Dulwich College Picture Gallery, the first public art gallery in England; it opened in 1814, pre-dating the National Gallery in London by a decade. Bourgeois was the protégé of Noel Desenfans (b Douai, 1745; d London, 8 July 1807), a French picture dealer who settled in London. There, in Anthony Blunt's words, ‘he became a friend of most of the leading artists, including Reynolds and Gainsborough, and exasperated his rival dealers by his successful pose as a gentleman who only sold pictures out of consideration for his friends and not for profit’ (The Nation's Pictures, 1950). Desenfans also became consul general for Poland and in 1790 he was commissioned on behalf of King Stanislas II to put together a collection of pictures for a projected National Gallery in Warsaw. In 1795, however, Poland ceased to exist as an independent state when it was annexed by Austria, Prussia, and Russia, leaving Desenfans in possession of the pictures he had collected (for which he had not been paid). He tried to persuade the British government to buy them as the nucleus of a National Gallery, but his proposal came to nothing. Some of the paintings were sold in 1802, and those that remained with him at his death in 1807 were left jointly to his widow and Bourgeois, in the hope that they would be used to form a public collection.

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From The Oxford Dictionary of Art in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Art.


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