Interior of a Foundry with Visitors
When this painting was acquired it was mistakenly entitled 'Interior of a Forge'. It does not show a forge (with an anvil) but the blast furnace of one of the many iron foundries for which Liège was well known. The visitors are an elegant and very fashionably dressed couple with their dog, who are perhaps being shown around by an iron master, the foundry’s proprietor, whose face is hidden by the lady’s huge bouffant mobcap. A young child and an overseer wearing an apron watch them. In the centre two workmen are skimming the surface of the molten iron to remove slag and other impurities. An illustration in Diderot’s 'Encyclopaedia' (1765) shows a similar blast furnace with young children present and actively employed. The painting’s dramatic main light source is the blindingly white-hot molten metal with a softer secondary illumination provided from the glowing ladle or poche. There are two other versions of this scene in Brussels, but the Walker’s painting is the only one signed in an unconventional and witty manner, as if in molten metal in a foundry mould, the ‘E’ of France just about to be poured into the sand. Another Defrance painting showing a different foundry is thought to depict Pierre-Paul Maibe, one of Liège’s major industrialists, showing a lady visitor around one of the many foundries and furnaces he owned. In the Brussels’ painting some of the figures on the left wear different clothes and hats. They are also posed at slightly different angles to those in the Walker’s picture giving the effect that the Walker’s work is a ‘snapshot’ painted immediately before or after the Brussels panel. The features of the workers and visitors in the Brussels picture have also been painted with a greater clarity and there are differences in the number of implements and tie-bars shown against the walls. The Brussels picture is undated but is thought to have been painted between 1780 and 1786 owing to the style of the iron grill being cast and the costume of the visitors. The Walker’s scene was painted several years later in the year of the French Revolution, which reached Liège in August 1789. This had a dramatic impact on Defrance’s own life and career as he played an important role in the city’s revolutionary movement.