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

Figure 1.--Here Saint-Mémin depicts two identified boys seated reading a picture book. We believe they are French boys painted in the 1840s, although the early 50s before his death is possible. The boys look to be about 3 and 5 years of age. They both wear skirted garments, we believe tunics. Notice that the picture book is done in colors. At the time this would have meant hand painted and thus rather expensive. This, the boy's smart outfits, and the fact that they were being painted by a respected artist suggest that they were from a well-to-do family.

Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin (1770–1852) was a French portraitist and museum director, but during his exteded stay in America created important oportrait of the early leaders of the Americn Republic. His parents were Benigne Charles Fevret and Victoire Marie de Motmans. He was educated at Ecole Militaire, Paris and graduated in 1785. He served in the French Guard just before the Revolution. Saint-Memin and his family with monarchist loyalties first fled travelled to Switzerland and then with the rise of the Terror to New York City (1793). They planned to travel to Santo Domingo (Haiti) 'to prevent the sequestration of the lands of his creole mother'. While in New York, however, news arrived of the slave revolt making it imposible to travel there. This left the family virtually pennyless. Saint-Mémin's education was military. While in New York, needing to make a living, he taught himself to do portraits. He quickly became one of the foremost portrait engraver in the United States (late-18th and early-19th century). Perhaps because of his lack of artitistic training, he turned to the physiognotrace technique, invented by Gilles-Louis Chretien (1786). He created portraits from life of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and many other leaders of the young American Republic. They were priamrily busts, not portraits of the leaders and their families. But they are very well done and important historical images. Thus ironically this committed monarchist played an important service to the American Republic. As there were so few important American artists, his most important work was done during his time in America. With the fall of Napoleon, it was finally safe for monarchists and he returned with his family to France (1814). He became the director of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon (1817), presumably a reward for his loyalty to the monarchy. Saint-Mémin apparently did water colors in France. We are not sure when he began working in watr colors. The portrait of the two boys here is a good example (figure 1). He spent the remainder of his days at the museum and died in Dijon (1852).


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Created: 7:27 AM 4/22/2013
Last updated: 6:59 PM 4/22/2013