Jean-Baptiste Pillement was a painter and designer, known for his exquisite and delicate landscapes, but whose importance lies primarily in the engravings done after his drawings, and their influence in spreading the Rococo style and particularly the taste for chinoiserie throughout Europe.
Pillement had an unusually cosmopolitan career. He was born and died in Lyon. In 1743, at the age of 15, he moved from Lyon to Paris where he was employed as an apprentice designer at the Gobelin factory. In 1745 he left for Spain, where he remained for 5 years. There he found employment in various cities as both a designer and painter. A landscape dated 1748 reveals rustic themes he was to repeat often: sun bathed shepherds leading their goats and sheep to a cascading stream, a water mill, rocky elevations covered in lush vegetation, and the poeticized relics of an ancient bridge. In 1750, at the age of 22, he moved to Lisbon, where he enjoyed continuing success. The lure of travel compelled him to decline an offer to become First Painter to King Joseph of Portugal, and in 1754 he left Lisbon for London.
Pillement then spent eight years in England, fully exploiting the English taste for landscapes. There he was inspired by the paintings of, among others, Nicolaes Berchem. During this period he became acquainted with David Garrick, the famous actor, and his Austrian wife Eva Maria Weigel, who became avid collectors of his work. In 1763 Pillement then traveled to Vienna, where he was employed at the Imperial Court of Maria Theresa and Francis I. In 1765 he left Vienna for Warsaw, where his many projects included decorating the Royal Castle in Warsaw and the Ujazdowski Castle, his largest project, commissioned by the king of Poland Stanisław II Augustus. He also later worked in Saint Petersburg, the Piedmont, Milan, Rome and Venice. 1768-1780 Pillement again worked in France, where he was employed by Marie Antoinette in the Petit Trianon. 1780-1789 he was once again on the Iberian Peninsula, and in 1789 moved to Pézenas in the Languedoc. In 1800 he returned to Lyon, where he continued to paint while also designing for the silk industry and giving lessons in the Academy founded by Napoleon. He remained in his native Lyon until his death in 1808.
Pillement's illustrations are a mixture of fantastic birds, flora & fauna, large human figures and chinoiserie. He often worked with print makers such as Anne Allen (artist). His designs were used by engravers and decorators on porcelain and pottery, but also on textiles, wallpaper and silver. Pillement had discovered in 1764 a new method of printing on silk with fast colours (recorded in his Memoirs). One of his prime vehicles was the single print marketed independently of an album. He published many albums, one is: Œùvre de fleurs, ornements, cartouches, figures et sujets chinois (1776).