Painter Jacques-Laurent Agasse was born on 24 March 1767 at Geneva. His family were merchants of Huguenot descent. The youngster showed an interest in studying animals and in 1782 his father sent him to the École du Calabri, the state drawing school. Agasse travelled to Paris in 1786 to further his training and worked in the studio of Jacques-Louis David. At the same time, he studied anatomy and dissection at the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle.
Forced to return to Geneva in 1789, Agasse met George Pitt (later Lord Rivers) who invited him to England to exploit a rich market for animal and sporting art. He arrived in London in autumn 1800 and soon after he exhibited two paintings at the Royal Academy. Collaborating with engraver Charles Turner from 1802, he sold his sporting prints through a network of printsellers and by subscription. The arrangement lasted until about 1818. Agasse then went on to work with prominent print publishers, including Rudolph Ackermann, Colnaghi, and Francis Moon.
Rivers remained Agasse’s principal patron. Best known are his paintings of the exotic animals held at Polito’s menagerie at the Strand, where he had started to paint in 1803. Polito’s son-in-law Edward Cross, who later took over the menagerie, was to become a lifelong friend. Probably through Cross’s influence, George IV commissioned Agasse to paint his own exotic animals, the Nubian Giraffe (1827) and the White-Tailed Gnus (1828).
Agasse initially lived at no. 8 Church Lane, Kensington, before settling at no. 4 Newman Street, near Oxford Circus, at the time a centre of artistic life. His patron Rivers died in 1828 and the area around Newman Street began to decline - and so did Agasse’s career. In 1838 he moved near to Fitzroy Square. He died in December 1849.