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The Temple of Love. Etching and aquatint on a firm, laid paper. 31.6 x 46 cm. Wollin 24 II; Inventaire du Fonds Français 25 II.
This fascinating, dramatically vivid composition is extremely rare, only a few impressions having survived. In the first state the print was executed as a pure etching, whereas in the second state it was reworked using aquatint. In 1784 King Gustav III of Sweden, a great theatre lover, appointed Desprez to the position of theatre architect and stage designer in Stockholm, where
he produced decorations for the Royal Theatre as well as for court festivals, carousels and other celebratory events. Although Desprez’ appointment was originally for two years only, he proved so successful in a very short space of time that his contract was extended for a further twelve years in 1786. Countless stage designs for the Drama Theatre and Opera House in Stockholm and for the two court theatres at Drottningholm and Gripsholm have been preserved, providing a lasting tribute to Desprez’ artistic prestige. Following the death of Gustav III in the spring of 1792, however, his artistic flight came to an abrupt end and he spent the last years of his life in straitened circumstances. Desprez was undoubtedly one of the most talented and original scenographic specialists of his time. His interest in the theatre was aroused when a student in 1768 in Paris, where he was taught by the architect Charles de Wailly and in all likelihood collaborated with him on the production of stage sets.
The etching The Temple of Love probably came about in connection with a theatre project of which we have no further knowledge. Desprez has contrived a monumental piece of wonderfully light, seemingly ephemeral festive architecture, whose arcades rest on slender Corinthian columns. Fluffy clouds concealing a dramatic evening sky heighten the theatrical impact of the scene. Innumerable richly-clad men and women have gathered for a sumptuous banquet in this opulent setting; in the foreground love gods direct individual couples to discreet retreats. The hustle and bustle is overseen by an orchestra seated in the arcades above; a host of hovering putti stretches a baldachin over a towering organ. The whole is infused with an incomparable lightness and sparkle, illustrating Desprez’ unbridled creative imagination; the coarse-grained aquatint wraps the scene in a soft, mysterious sfumato. Desprez used the same composition for a pen-and-ink drawing depicting a feast of Priapus in antiquity, which is now in the National Museum in Stockholm.
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