Sunday, January 16, 2011

Profiling a nation; The American artwork of French Émigré artist Saint-Mémin

"Capt. George Nicholas" ca 1802

Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin (1770-1852)

A French aristocrat, fled France during the French revolution, and worked as a portrait engraver in the United States in the late 18th century early 19th century. He created portraits from life of famous American's like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and others. Saint-Mémin settled in New York city in 1793 at the age of twenty-three with his family They intended to travel to Santo Domingo ”to prevent the sequestration of the rich lands of his Creole mother Victoire Marie de Motmans [However] in New York news of the fate of that colony made them decide to remain where they were.

Faced with earning a living, they first tried raising vegetables, but ... this experiment proved inadequate.” Out of necessity, Saint-Memin taught himself to work portraits. In New York, Saint-Mémin turned to the arts to support himself, his parents, and his sister. With some training in drawing from his education at Ecole Militaire in Paris and an aptitude for precision, he taught himself the art of engraving. First, he made a few landscapes and city plans. Then, in 1796 he took up the profession of portraitist. His partner was Thomas Bluget de Valdenuit (1763-1846), also of the French military.

His first work was published in 1796, the year he began a portrait business with Thomas Bluget de Valdenuit . The two utilized the physiognotrace, a device whereby a sitter's profile was traced by a bar, and a pantograph, with a piece of chalk attached to its end, drew the same profile in a smaller dimension onto a piece of paper. Details were then added to the outline drawing. Another pantograph was used to trace the drawing and produce a continuous line engraving on a copper plate. Saint-Mémin then utilized a roulette, a tool of his own invention, to produce shading on the engravings. The sitter usually received the drawing, the copper plate and a dozen engravings for a set fee.

While in business with Valdenuit, Saint-Mémin produced the engravings from his partner's drawings. The partnership dissolved after about a year, and Saint-Mémin went on to create both the portrait drawings and engravings himself. He left New York in 1798, and traveled down the east coast of the United States, with stays in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Richmond, and Charleston.

Between 1796 and 1814, Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin created some of the most memorable images in the history of American portraiture. Often using the physiognotrace technique, invented in 1786 by Gilles-Louis Chretien. Nearly a thousand Americans sat for portraits, among them Thomas Jefferson, Paul Revere, Mother Seton, Meriwether Lewis, and Charles Willson Peale. Saint-Mémin's popularity rested on a growing appreciation for profiles as a particularly truthful form of portraiture, and his distinctive images have come to epitomize Federal America.

Saint-Mémin and his family returned to France in 1814 a very rich man. Full of story's about Who Was Who in America during his stay. He worked as director of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon from 1817-1852. He died in Dijon on June 23, 1852 leaving behind a rare glimpse of beautiful Neoclassical Profile Portraits of American's during the early days of the Republic.

Portrait of Dr. Amos Newhall of Essex County, Virginia.


Thomas Jefferson, 1804

Alexander Rider

John Adams

Jean-Victor Moreau 

Osage Warrior by Saint-Mémin.

He was in the nation's capital in 1804–6 when delegations of Native Americans whose lands had been acquired by the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase came to Washington to meet President Jefferson and discuss trade relations. Saint-Mémin's fifteen portraits of native Plainsmen are not only the most ethnographically correct but also the earliest known of their type.

Miniature profile portrait of James Wilson of Alexandria, Virginia who was a neighbor and pallbearer at George Washington's funeral in 1779.

Miniature profile portrait of James Wilson of Alexandria, Virginia who was a neighbor and pallbearer at George Washington's funeral in 1779.

John Drayton, Governor of South Carolina

 A fine bust-length profile of Potter (1770-1843), executed in Baltimore in 1804. In an old, gilt frame

Engraved bust length portrait of Samuel Thatcher, inscribed on frame ''Col. Samuel Thatcher born in Mass. graduated from Harvard in 1793...this print listed no. 432 made in 1806 by Fevret de Saint Memin''.

Portrait of Thomas Rodman of Burlington, New Jersey

Profile Portrait of Captain Merriweather Lewis

Mixed media profile portrait of a gentleman

Portrait of A Gentleman

Samuel Chase, Jr. or Thomas Chase

Portrait of Charles Carroll of Homewood Baltimore, Maryland

Alexander Contée Hanson, Jr. (1786-1819)


Self-portrait by Saint-Memin

Portrait of a lady

depicting a half-length profile portrait of a blue-eyed gentleman seated on a bow-back chair, wearing a black waistcoat, white shirt and cravat

A full length water Watercolor of Lewis in expedition garb, by Charles BJF Saint-Memin, 1807 Painted shortly after Lewis" return to Washington after his expedition, this full length watercolor portrait depicts Lewis in frontiersman dress, wearing a fur cap, a tunic to the mid-thighs, buckskin breeches, and moccasins.

Portrait of a lady

James Alexander Fulton of Mt. Erin

Peter Fayolla, engraving, 1809,

Christopher Grant Champlin

Portrait of a Young Man

Mrs. Cummings

Robert Greenhow Jr

Saint-Memin portraits of a lady and gentleman; charcoal on wove paper with pink background. In gilt frames with replaced eglomise glass

A Gentleman

Saint-Memin Profile Portrait of Nathaniel Potter,

copperplate on wove paper. A fine bust-length profile of Potter (1770-1843), executed in Baltimore in 1804. In an old, gilt frame


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