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FRANCIS LE PIPER (c.1640-1698)

FRANCIS LE PIPER (c.1640-1698)


Pencil, pen and brown ink, with brown wash
11.1 x 16.8 cm



Anonymous sale, Christie's, London, 05.07.2022, Lot 72;

Private collection, London




The present work is a rare examplem of this unusual artist's draughtsmanship, with fewer than twenty appearing at auction in the past several decades. It is closely comparable to the similarly humourous subjects of the drawings by Le Piper at the British Museum, London. 



Francis Le Piper, son of Noel Lepipre, belonged to a prominent family from Flanders, which had settled in England by the time of his birth, and owned property at Canterbury. His father made a large fortune as a merchant, and gave his son a liberal education. Unusually for someone of his background, Francis showed an early interest in art, and a private income enabled him to pursue this effectively for his own amusement, from the beginning almost exclusively choosing comic subjects for his work. His biographer, Bainbrigg Buckeridge, noted that 'he would, by a transient view of any remarkable face of man or woman that he met in the street, retain the likeness so exact in his memory, that when he expressed it in the draught, the spectator, who knew the original, would have thought the person had sat several times for it.’ (1)



Francis travelled extensively on the continent, and is said to have closely studied the drawings of both his contemporaries and earlier Masters, particularly the works of Agostino Carracci and Rembrandt. It is thought that he even travelled as far as Egypt. Having inherited a small fortune at the death of his father, Le Piper is thought to have spent recklessly on drink and entertainment, and soon found himself considerably reduced in circumstances. He was temporarily reduced to working for Isaac Beckett the mezzotint-engraver, and later in life he took to modelling in wax, executing bas-reliefs in this manner with some success. After his mother's death he inherited further property, and resumed his extravagant lifestyle. It is worth noting that he appears to have been popular among his fellow artists in London: he features in Walpole's Anecdotes of Painting; is thought to have been painted by Isaac Fuller; and a portrait of him was engraved by Edward Luttrell. 



He drew landscapes, humorous compositions and caricatures, and frequently etched subjects on silver plates for his friends, who used them as lids to their tobacco-boxes. A surprising number of his paintings in oils survive, given his amateur status and their comparatively naive quality, with five in the Tate, London, another three in the Rye Art Gallery. His twelve scenes from Hudibras, five of which are now in the Tate and another three in the collection of the Rye Art Gallery, were even acknowledged by Hogarth's biographer to have had some influence on the later caricaturist. 


    • NOTES

      (1) Bainbrigg Buckeridge, The Art of Painting and the Lives of the Painters…, London (1706), pp.409–10.

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