FOUNDER OF DULWICH PICTURE GALLERY

Les deux Hermites, dédié a mylord Lyttelton …

A Londres; chez R. Davis … J Ridley … W Owen … 1773.

2 vols. in one, 8vo., pp. vii, [1], 135, [1]; [2], 182; A2 with old tear repaired; a little foxed at the extremities but a good, tall copy in nineteenth-century half vellum, Bridgewater arms to front cover, Bridgewater Library bookplate, Merton House stamp to foot of title.

£650

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First and only edition, uncommon, of an epistolary novel by the future art dealer Noel Joseph Desenfans. The scene is Paris in the 1680s, the theme is Enlightenment, and the author’s aim was to inspire ‘l’horreur de l’oppression, sentiment nécessaire à l’harmonie de la Société, & vertu que les Rois doivent avoir sans cesse auprès de leur Trône. Les maux des siècles derniers en ont épargné au nôtre, & les malheurs retracés seront toujours une instruction utile aux hommes.’ This was his second work of fiction, preceded by the novella Sulmiste et Sergi (1772).

Desenfans came to London in 1769 as a language tutor, marrying a wealthy student, Margaret Morris, in 1776. Now financially secure, he explored his native talent as an art dealer, and in 1790 he and his Swiss-born protégé Peter Francis Bourgeois were commissioned by King Stanislaus of Poland to build a national art collection. Desenfans bought heavily from the dispersed collections of the French and Italian nobility, including notable works by Rubens and Rembrandt, and the most important collection of Poussin outside the Louvre; but Poland’s partition put paid to the scheme, and in 1799 Desenfans’s Plan for establishing a National Gallery, which proposed that the paintings should be added to the British Museum, was also rejected. The 1802 auction catalogue of the ‘Polish’ paintings is his major work of connoisseurship, and on his death in 1807, the remaining 350 paintings were left to Bourgeois, and thence to Desenfans’s widow, on condition that they pass to Dulwich College. Sir John Soane designed the Dulwich Picture Gallery, which incorporates a mausoleum housing the remains of Mr. and Mrs. Desenfans and Peter Bourgeois. It opened in 1817 as Britain’s first public art gallery, and the Desenfans-Bourgeois bequest still forms a major part of its collection.

ESTC shows only five complete copies: BL, Taylorian; UC Berkeley, UCLA, Texas, and Toronto; plus three copies of volume I only.

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