Gilles Demarteau Biography

Gilles Demarteau




Printmaker and publisher Gilles Demarteau (a.k.a. Gilles Demarteau the Elder) was born in Liege, Belgium, in 1722. The son of a gunsmith, he learned metal engraving and goldmsithing at a young age, joining his brother in Paris to work under the firearms engraver De Lacollombe around 1748. By the age of twenty-four he was considered a master engraver-carver on all metals and in 1955 he setting in the Rue de la Pelleterie, opening his own engraving workshop, "A la Cloche."

His instruction in fine art remains uncertain, though it is assumed he had private lessons from an early age, which helped bloster his expertise. In 1756 he was commissioned to engrave a series of trophies designed by Antoine Watteau, and in the process helped to developed the "crayon manner" of engraving, now often referred to as stipple engraving, a process created to more closely resemble a chalk drawing in the reproduction process. Dispute over who was the primary creator of this technique created a rift between Demarteau and his studio partner Jean-Charles Francois; however, due to his superior drawing skills, Demarteau soon became the leading expert on the crayon manner in France. 

In 1767 Demarteau presented his first two-color plates to the Academy Francaise and in 1769 he was admitted as a member of the Academie. In 1770, he was appointed engraver to the King, replacing his rival Jean-Charles Francois. He became particularly known for his reproduction of painters' sketches, which were traditionally drawn in sanguine conte crayon, a texture and color that Demarteau was able to expertly mimic, making these small compositions popular inclusions in the small blank spaces of decorative paneling.  

By the end of his life, Demarteau had amassed an oeuvre of around 560 numbered plates, and had published around forty drawing manuals, including a pattern book dedicated to firearms decoration as a nod to his beginnings. Demarteau died in Paris in 1776.