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Gravelot [formerly Bourguignon], Hubert-Françoislocked

  • M. G. Sullivan

Hubert-François Gravelot (1699–1773)

by Jean Massard (after Maurice-Quentin de La Tour)

Gravelot [formerly Bourguignon], Hubert-François (1699–1773), book illustrator and engraver, was born on 26 March 1699 at St Germain l'Auxerrois, Paris, the younger of the two sons of Hubert Bourguignon, a master tailor, and his wife, Charlotte Vaugon. He took the name Gravelot as a young man, apparently from his godfather. Gravelot was probably the greatest single influence on the development of book illustration in eighteenth-century England, and he is also recognized as a major protagonist in the introduction of the rococo style to English art.

Gravelot was educated at the Collège des Quatre Nations in Paris, alongside his brother, the geographer Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville. He then travelled to Lyons to work for the ambassador to Rome, Louis d'Aubusson, duc de la Feuillade, although he never got to Rome, having allegedly wasted the money he had been given to make the journey. On his return to Paris his father sent him to Santo Domingo with the governor-general of the island, the chevalier de la Rochelard. There Gravelot made a map of the island, but apparently little else. The loss of a ship containing merchandise sent by his father left him penniless, and he returned to Paris in 1729.

In Paris Gravelot trained in the studios of Jean Restout the younger and François Boucher, where he presumably developed his flowing, graceful style. By 1733 he was in London, having been invited by Claude du Bosc to work on a new edition of Bernard Picart's The Ceremonies and Religious Customs of the Various Nations of the World (Amsterdam, 1725–43). Gravelot helped to re-engrave the plates for the English edition (1733–7) and also added twenty-two new headpieces. During the twelve years that he spent in London his obvious technical ability, and what George Vertue called his 'great and fruitful genius for designs' (Hammelmann, 38), made him a favourite among booksellers. Over this period he produced work for more than fifty publications, ranging from ornamental surrounds for the portrait of Handel for the published score of Alexander's Feast, an Opera, in 1738, to major commissions, such as twenty-seven plates for John Dryden's Works (1735) and sixteen plates for John Gay's Fables of 1738 (drawings in the British Museum).

Vertue later described Gravelot as a 'designer and etcher of history' (Hammelmann, 38), and he was a leading illustrator of the British past. His ornamental surrounds for Jacobus Houbraken's portraits of illustrious figures, first for the third edition of Rapin's History of England (1743–7) and then for Thomas Birch's Heads of Illustrious Persons of Great Britain (1743–51), added key visual detail and dramatic effect to the representation of history, as in the putti mourning over the severed head of Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk, the original drawing for which is in the Tate collection. Gravelot also produced designs for John Pine's Tapestry Hangings of the House of Lords, showing portraits of the central figures involved in the Anglo-Spanish battles of 1588 (thirty-one original designs are in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London), and worked with Vertue on engravings of ancient monuments, such as the View of the Monument of Henry VII (1735; impression in the Guildhall collection, London). However, he is probably better remembered for his elegant theatrical illustrations, especially his thirty-six plates for the second edition of Theobald's Works of Shakespeare (1740, reprinted 1752, 1772, and 1773). Scenes such as Othello Murdering Desdemona (original drawing in the Huntington Library) show a relatively early attempt to represent a Shakespearian scene by rehashing earlier scenes from non-Shakespearian French prints and placing the action in an anachronistically contemporary interior. These works nevertheless reveal Gravelot's flowing, sketchy draughtsmanship and his mastery of gesture. Also, inadvertently, they show his precise eye for the contemporary interior. His other musical and theatrical illustrations include The Adieu to the Spring Gardens, for George Bickham's The Musical Entertainer (1737–8; impression in the Guildhall collection) and Songs in the Opera of Flora (1737). His illustrations for Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1742; drawings in the British Museum and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) helped to popularize the novel genre.

In London Gravelot was an important figure in the artistic community. He lived at the Golden Cup in King Street, Covent Garden, and later in James Street, Covent Garden. He appears to have taught at the St Martin's Lane Academy and to have been a regular drinking companion of Francis Hayman, with whom he collaborated on the designs for Thomas Hamner's Works of Shakespeare (1743–4). He was also a lifelong friend of the actor David Garrick and seems to have collaborated with L. F. Roubiliac on his design for the monument to the duke of Argyll in Westminster Abbey. Another drinking companion was William Hogarth, with whom Gravelot shared a taste for satire: he could often be heard holding forth at Slaughter's Coffee House 'with considerable violence and freedom for or against whom he pleases' (Vertue, Note books, 3.91). His political caricatures, such as The State Packhorse (original drawing in the Tate collection), are, however, too allegorical and customarily elegant to match the savagery of his companion's productions.

Gravelot's output in London was varied and extensive. His gracious rococo designs may be found on trade cards, bookplates, fans, badges, and invitation cards (examples are in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum). He is said to have designed for furniture makers and upholsterers, while designs survive for gold boxes, watches, and watchcases. Long after his return to France his designs were being reproduced on Bow and Chelsea porcelain. Gravelot was a skilled engraver of his own and other's designs, and during his stay in England he produced several oil paintings of genre scenes, including Le lecteur (priv. coll.) and Building Card Houses (National Gallery of British Sports and Pastimes, London).

Gravelot returned to Paris in October 1745, apparently tired of accusations, in the hostile climate after the battle of Fontenoy, that he was a French spy. He is said to have taken home £10,000 in savings. Twenty years after his departure he was still receiving commissions from English booksellers. V. Salomons, who valued Gravelot's French work more, considered England to have stultified the engraver's natural artistic passion, which returned in full on his return to his homeland. He was as popular in France as in England, and produced illustrations for Boccaccio's Decameron (1757–61), Rousseau's La nouvelle Héloïse (1761), Voltaire's Théatre de Pierre Corneille (1764) and Œuvres (1768–74), the Almanach iconologique (1765–79), Ovid's Metamorphoses (1767–71), and Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata (1771).

Many years after the death of his first wife, Marie-Anne Luneau (1710–1759), he married, in November 1770, Jeanne Ménétier (b. 1736/7), who was nearly thirty years his junior. Apparently he failed to inform his family on the occasion of both his marriages; both were childless. On 20 April 1773, after an eight-day illness, Gravelot died at the Oratoire in St Germain l'Auxerrois, Paris. He was buried in the church of St Germain l'Auxerrois.

Gravelot is said once to have remarked that 'De English may be very clever in deir own opinions, but dey do not draw de draw' (Hammelmann, 39), and subsequent commentators have all agreed that Gravelot left British art more sophisticated than he found it. Brian Allen has discerned the influence of Gravelot on Francis Hayman's group portraits, which exhibit the relaxed informality of the Frenchman's work. Gravelot taught Thomas Gainsborough, whom he employed on his ornamental work for Rapin's History of England, and he is thought to have been a great influence on Gainsborough's formal and stylistic development. Thomas Major and Charles Grignion were also pupils. Echoes of his swirling engraved frames and theatrical interiors could still be discerned years after his departure in the work of Samuel Wale and Thomas Stothard.


  • H. Hammelmann, Book illustrators in eighteenth-century England, ed. T. S. R. Boase (1975), 38–46
  • E. Goncourt and J. Goncourt, L'art du XVIIIme siècle (1882)
  • V. Salomons, Gravelot (1911)
  • M. Snodin and E. Moncrieff, eds., Rococo: art and design in Hogarth's England (1984) [exhibition catalogue, V&A, 16 May – 30 Sept 1984]
  • K. Rorschach, ‘Gravelot [Bourguignon, Hubert-Francois]’, The dictionary of art, ed. J. Turner (1996)
  • M. Baker, ‘Roubiliac's Argyll monument and the interpretation of eighteenth-century sculptor's designs’, Burlington Magazine, 134 (1992), 785–97
  • B. Allen, Francis Hayman (1987)
  • S. Foister, R. Jones, and O. Meslay, Young Gainsborough (1997) [exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London, 29 Jan – 31 March 1997, The Castle Museum, Norwich, 19 April – 15 June 1997, and The Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, 21 June – 17 Aug 1997]


  • Henriques, engraving, 1770 (after H. F. Gravelot)
  • C. E. Gaucher, line engraving, BM
  • H. F. Gravelot, self-portrait, repro. in Salomons, Gravelot
  • J. Massard, line engraving (after M. Q. de La Tour), BM, NPG [see illus.]

Wealth at Death

surprisingly little: Salomons, Gravelot

S. Redgrave, (1874); rev. edn (1878); repr. (1970)
, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)