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Gerard De Lairesse, born at Liege in 1640, was the son of a painter of considerable repute, who destined him at first to the career of letters. To these studies, to which he joined the talent of poetry and music, and those noble and excellent ideas by which he was distinguished, the young Lairesse owed his excellence in another art. After receiving from his father, and from Bertholet, the first principles of painting; and studying in the works of the painters of his native country, the truth of colouring, and charm of execution, he surpassed them by the correctness of his design, the choice and elevation of his thoughts, and the dignity of his expression. He was, however, far from attaining the purity of the antique, and majestic severity of the Roman school; but when it is considered that he never visited Italy, and had no other assistance to form his taste than a few pictures of Poussin, the engravings after that master, and those of Pietro Testa, we cannot deny the superiority of his genius. Happy in his compositions, he finished them always with much delicacy and freedom of pencil. Every branch of his art was alike familiar to him, and with much propriety he was called the Poussin of France. But Lairesse tarnished the brilliancy of his talents by a dissolute life.—He plunged into every species of excess and debauchery, which daily absorbed the fruit of his labour. After painting for some time pictures for dealers, who sold at an enormous rate to amateurs, what they procured at a moderate price, he enjoyed, in the end, all the advantages of his celebrity. But his sight, by degrees, became weak; and, in 1690, it entirely left him.
Compelled to renounce the practice of painting, he occupied himself in the theory of the art; which consoled him under his misfortune. His children and friends collected his discoveries; and, by the aid of different figures which he was enabled to trace upon canvas to facilitate a knowledge of his ideas, they formed a series of works, ornamented with plates, which they published after his death. His book is not deficient in merit; but, with the exception of some chapters on the mechanism of his art, upon harmony and opposition of colouring, it offers but little real instruction: the author loses himself in idle dissertations. His allegorical programs are too complicated and multiplied. Lairesse painted at Liege, Utrecht, and Amsterdam; and finished his days in the last city, in 1711, at the age of seventy-one. He had two brothers, and a nephew, who were painters; and left three sons, who exercised the same talent: but they were inferior to himself. He engraved in aquafortis, an excellent collection of his compositions. His smaller pictures are the most esteemed.