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Jacques-Laurent Agasse was born in April 1767. he was born in Geneva, Switzerland, where he had his first formal art training at the local public art school. Agasse showed interest in art at a very young age; also, the discovery of Histoire Naturelle by Comte de Buffon undoubtedly sparked his curiosity in animal behavior and anatomy, his future, and main subjects. For four years, Agasse also attended the Calabri’s drawing school, training under Georges Vaniere and Jacques Cassin.
By 19 years old, Agasse went to Paris to continue his training in Jacques-Louis David’s studio. In parallel, he attended osteology, anatomy, and dissection courses at the Museum of Natural History. However, the French Revolution would put an end to Agasse’s stay in Paris. Back in Geneva, Agasse was an assistant to the Drawing Committee of the Society of Arts.
Before going to England, Agasse was already a recognized animal painter. It is said that his fortune came by accident, for when he was Switzerland a rich Englishman called George Pitt, future Lord Rivers, asked Agasse to paint his favorite dog, a greyhound which had died. The wealthy Englishman was so satisfied with the results that he took the painter back to England with him. However, he was forced to go back to Geneva, for the Revolution ruined his family. Since then, Agasse was forced to live out of his art production.
By the end of 1800, thanks to Lord Rivers’ support, Agasse could establish himself in London, working mainly as a painter of dogs and horses of wealthy landowners. He lived with his friends of Genevan origin, the Chalon family. Their sons, Edward and James, were painters as well and also members of the Royal Academy, where from 1801 to 1845, Agasse would exhibit his artwork regularly. He also participated in other major exhibitions, such as at the British Institution, the Old Society of Painters in Watercolours, the Society of British Artists, and at the Sketching Society.
Agasse would receive several commission to paint celebrated horses of distinguished members of society. One of his most famous paintings of that period is Cheval Arabe Gris Wellesley Avec son proprietaire et un groom dans Ecurie, executed in 1809. Agasse was much attracted by wild animals, which he painted life-size. Agasse’s keen scientific naturalism would grant him a commission from the Royal College of Surgeons for him to execute a series of paintings illustrating a cross-breeding theory by Lord Morton.
Jacques-Laurent Agasse died on December 27, 1849.