Pancrace Bessa-E

Paris, January 1st 1772 – June 11th 1846, Ecouen

Pancrace Bessa was not really part of the Colony of painters but he has shown the way to Ecouen. He was the artists fore-runner.

Pancrace Bessa is the son of Nicolas François Bessa, local taxes collector. He studied at Montaigu and then worked, as clerk, in his father’s office.

As a young man, during the French revolution, being very competent into gymnastics and fencing, he enrolled in the National Guards. He was present during the Bastille battle. In August 10th 1789, he took part of the Paris Tuileries Castle defense and, being witness of the massacre, he resigned from the National Guards and enrolled in the army.

He took part of the Holland campaign under the command of General Charles Pichegru (1761-1804). There, he discovered the beauty of flowers and began to be interested in painting them.

He then learned botany and zoology becoming student of Gerard Van Spaendonck (1746-1822) and Pierre Redoute (1759-1840) with whom he worked later.

Already known for his paintings, he traveled with Napoleon Bonaparte and Dominique Vivant Redon (1747-1825) during the Egypt campaign, from1798 to 1821. He brought back a lot of samples of shells, shellfish, etc. and used them to make superb drawings called “Description de l’Egypte: Histoire naturelle” (Description of Egypt: Natural history).

In 1805, his work “Fleurs et fruits” (Flowers and fruits) became part of the Paris Prints Department. From 1806 to 1831, his success was increasing in the Salon de Paris exhibitions. In 1808, he won a first medal there and, in 1825, two silver ones in Douai and Lille.

Never tired worker, from 1810 to 1827, he made more than 572 water-color artworks for the thirteen books of l’ “Herbier general de l’amateur” (Amateur general plants book) by Jean-Claude Mordant de Launay (1750-1816) and Jean-Louis Auguste Loiseleur Deslongchamps (1774-1848). He became the water-color teacher of the Duchess of Berry and her father in law, the king Charles X. Under their influence, in 1823, he became the official painter of the Paris National History museum.

He develops a new engraving technique called “de pointillé” (points next to each others).

In 1831, he settles down in Ecouen and becomes the husband of Françoise Marguerite Bassigny, widow living “6 rue de la Beauvette” (6, Beauvette street). They had a son, Louis Maximilien who became a painter and part of the Ecouen City council.

Becoming tired and sick, Pancrace Bessa definitively retired with his son in a house he sold in 1834. He tried literature and poetry. Nevertheless, his last illustration work was for the book “Flore des jardiniers amateurs et manufacturiers” (amateur and professional gardeners flora).

Pancrace Bessa died in 1846. He probably made Pierre Edouard Frère discovering the Village of Ecouen where he established himself a year later.


For further information, please read the book “L’Ecole d’Ecouen, une colonie de peintres au XIXe siècle” (bilingual French-English).