The Centre for the History of European Discourses was incorporated in the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in August 2015.

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Philippe de Loutherbourg appears at one level to have been a respectable and successful salon artist of the late eighteenth century. Born in Alsace, he made a brilliant start to his painting career: in 1763 an exhibition of his landscape and battle paintings prompted the pre-eminent Parisian art critic Denis Diderot to call him a 'genius', and in 1767 he became the youngest artist ever admitted to the Paris Academy. Honours followed equally thickly after his move to London in 1772. He regularly exhibited at the London Academy and in 1781 he was admitted to full membership. For several years he served on the Academy Council, taught his quota of students and was thought to be sufficiently distinguished to challenge Benjamin West for the Presidency of that august body. His art oeuvre, which ranged from Romantic British landscapes, to portraits, caricatures, apocalyptic bible paintings and patriotic marine and battle paintings, was sought after and purchased by patrons of taste such as the Prince of Wales and by connoisseurs such as William Beckford. Later in life, his work was also admired and imitated by a younger generation of artists, including Joseph Turner.

Yet de Loutherbourg's status was never assured. There was always something faintly unrespectable and uneasy about his social and intellectual standing. Throughout his life, both in Europe and Britain, he was pursued by private and public accusations of charlatanry. In this paper I will suggest that his connections with occultism, especially alchemy, freemasonry, sexual heterodoxy and healing, with new technological art experiments, and with commercial showmanship gave him multiple taints of charlatanry within the politically volatile climate engendered by war, revolution and counter-revolution. Indeed, de Loutherbourg can be viewed as an exceptionally sensitive barometer for testing the elusive and shifting meanings of the concept of charlatanry in late-eighteenth century Britain and Europe.

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