Back to top

Jean Laurent Legeay

Architect, court architect, painter, etcher, copperplate engraver, commercial artist, draughtsman and set designer

Born
ca. 1710 in Paris
Died
after 1786 in Rome

One Work by Jean Laurent Legeay

Biography

Art historians' appraisal of the draughtsman, architect, and engraver Legeay (also Le Geay) has oscillated between high praise and distanced criticism owing to his behaviour. The crux of the discussion has been not so much the artist's personal character but how he related to Piranesi, ten years younger, whose beginnings in Rome he witnessed, and how his position in the history of neoclassicism should be judged. The grand prize from the Paris Académie d'Architecture in 1732 afforded Legeay an extended stay (1737-42) at the Académie de France in Rome, whose director at the time admired his work. Much like Piranesi, Legeay considered himself both an architect and a graphic artist, and in 1739/40 produced the first sheets that would appear in one of the period's typical luxurious publications about Rome. His twofold talent led to lifelong conflict between his architectural fantasies and the impossibility of their actual realisation. From this perspective, Legeay appeared to be highly attractive to some, but bizarre and eccentric to others. His major works after his return to France were his designs, in 1746-47, for Berlin's St Hedwig Church, which was only completed in 1773. In 1748 Legeay worked as an architect for Duke Christian II of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, and from there was summoned to Berlin by King Frederick II to assist in planning in Potsdam and Sanssouci. But a falling out between the two ended the appointment in 1763. Legeay spent the following years in England, but without finding worthy employment. On his return to France he fared no better. Perhaps for this reason, and also in order to publicise his views, Legeay created a number of suites of etchings: 'Fontane per laqua', 1767, 'Rovine inventione', 1768, 'Tombeaux', 1768, and 'Vasi', 1768, which were collected under the title 'Collection de divers sujets de Vases, Tombeaux, Ruines et Fontaines' and published in Paris in 1770.