François Verly (1760-1822)
“Architectural Concept Drawing For The Town Of Tournai”, 1813
Ink and watercolour on wove paper
Signed and dated 1813 (lower right)
22.4 cm high x 31.5 cm wide
Private collection, UK
A watercolour of a civic square with an arcade and obelisks, various neo-classical buildings with porticos and a range of buildings with a colonnade towards the rear. Manuscript inscription in ink beneath the image: "Vue perspective relative au 1er Projet dressé par l'architecte Verly pour l'emploi des terrains apparténant à la Ville de Tournay -" (Perspective view relating to the 1st project drawn up by the architect Verly for use of land belonging to the city of Tournai). Signed and dated "f.Verly 1813" (lower right on the pediment of the portico).
A very interesting conceptual drawing by the neoclassical architect François Verly (1760-1822) for a project for the town of Tournai.
Verly was born in Lille and trained at l'Académie royale d'architecture de Paris between 1778 and 1786. He received an honorable mention for a design in the Prix de Rome of 1783 and won the Prix d’architecture in 1784. During the Revolution he held various official positions, including that of government architect in Lille. Napoleon made him his architect in Antwerp and he was responsible for several urban planning projects and designs for large-scale fêtes and public events (in Paris, Antwerp and Lille).
Verly undertook work for a number of private clients in Belgium and was a highly sought-after as a decorator. His work at Château de Wissekerke for Vicomte Louis Philippe Vilain XIIII showed him to be pragmatic and adaptable with regards to the 'Gothic Revival' but, on the whole, it was his neoclassical style which was viewed as perfectly reflecting the ideals of the Revolution and then of Empire.
His grandiose plans for the reconstruction of the city Lille, along neoclassical ideals, were accepted by the municipality in 1794 but never carried out. Between 1801 and 1814 he was responsible for remodeling the old city of Antwerp, including the enlargement of the harbour basin to create a flourishing centre of cultural and economic development. He also worked on the completion of the cathedral of Arras and presented plans for the town hall at Saint-Omer.
After the restoration of the monarchy, Verly was employed by the Prince of Orange in Brussels between 1814 and his death in 1822, to create plans for a Palais de Justice on a site occupied by a former Jesuit convent. This last phase of his career can be categorised as a period of restrained academic neo-classicism. Verly's Palais de Justice was demolished in 1892 and the space is now occupied by the brutalist "Place de la Justice".
The scale and novelty of François Verly's forms, especially the concepts he proposed for Lille, were really quite remarkable. He was a daring visionary who was well ahead of his time. Had his plans for Lille been realized it would have become one of the most remarkable towns in France and an astonishing capital of neoclassicism. Although frequently ignored by art historians Verly's importance is not negligible and he is sometimes compared to the more celebrated Étienne-Louis Boullée (1728–1799) and Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806). He was, arguably, one of the most influential architects working in the French provinces and Belgium. Sadly, as well as those of Verly's projects which never left the drawing-board, a number of his structures which were actually built have, subsequently, been demolished or defaced.
The use of watercolour paintings for proposed design schemes was one of the best ways for architects of the period to explain plans to their clients. Few of Verly's original watercolours seem to have survived. Here he is proposing landscaping of a public square in Tournai with a gentle incline up to civic buildings, fenced with railings and flanked by monumental stone obelisks. For an architectural design by Verly for "Le Théâtre et Les Bains du Peuple" see Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille [Inventory No. 'W.3938bis']. The Musée Carnavalet, Paris holds engravings by Verly of the "Confédération de Lille, du 6 juin 1790" [CARG028110] and "La Sainte Chapelle d'Arras-batie en et démolie en 1791" [CARG031912].
See also "Projet de bâtiment public" Lot 106, Christie's Paris, 27 March 2019, "Dessins Anciens et du XIXème incluant des oeuvres de la collection Jean Bonna" [Live Auction 16827] (Price realised EUR 3,500)
and "Projet de kiosque chinois pour le jardin du baron d'Hooghvorst à Meysse" Lot 107, Christie's Paris, 27 March 2019, "Dessins Anciens et du XIXème incluant des oeuvres de la collection Jean Bonna" [Live Auction 16827] (Price realised EUR 10,000)
For details of some of Verly's projects for Belgium see Jean-Jacques Duthoy, "Un architecte néo-classique Francois Verly: Lille, Anvers, Bruxelles", in Belgian Review of Architecture and Art History, t. XLI, 1972
Verly's watercolour for "Le Théâtre et Les Bains du Peuple" was used to illustrate the cover of James A. Leith "Space and Revolution: Projects for Monuments, Squares, and Public Buildings in France 1789-1799", McGill-Queen's University Press, Toronto, 1991
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