The fashion for profile portraits flourished from the 1790s until the early decades of the nineteenth century. Among its best-known practitioners was Saint-Memin, who immigrated to the United States in 1793 from his native Dijon in the wake of the French Revolution (see also B.84.1 and B.77.20). Saint-Memin set up a profile portrait practice in New York in 1796 with his partner Thomas Blugeut de Valdenuit, another French emigre. There, Saint-Memin and Valdenuit popularized the profile portrait made with a physiognotrace, an instrument for taking an accurate likeness of a sitter. Valdenuit returned to France in 1797, and Saint-Memin’s family moved to Burlington, New Jersey, in 1798. He assumed the life of an itinerant artist, traveling to Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Richmond, and Charleston. As he visited these cities, Saint-Memin was both creating and satisfying the demand for profile portraits, which were relatively inexpensive, accurate, and recalled the classical images of profile portraits in ancient Greco-Roman medals and vase painting. Before permanently settling in his native Dijon in 1814, Saint-Memin had created nearly one thousand portraits, of which more than 800 he also engraved.

The identification of the sitter of this portrait is unknown. When John Hill Morgan acquired the portrait in 1917, its sitter was identified as Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson who had served in Martin Van Buren's administration. Morgan then noted the sitter’s resemblance to Alexander Smith in a Saint-Memin portrait engraving (see Related examples), which included Saint-Memin’s inscription naming the sitter and giving the date of 1804; Morgan believed Smith was from Baltimore. In 1975, however, it was discovered that Alexander Smith could not be found in city directories for Baltimore during the years in which Saint-Memin might have worked there. Based on the sitter's resemblance to another possible Saint-Memin subject from Baltimore, David Conyngham Stewart (1775-ca.1820; see Related examples), a member of the Philpot family of Maryland County, Stewart was offered as an alternative identification to Smith.

RELATED EXAMPLES: Alexandeer Smith, 1804, engraving, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; David Conyningham Stewart(?), ca. 1803-4, watercolor, Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore.

Book excerpt: Warren, David B., Michael K. Brown, Elizabeth Ann Coleman, and Emily Ballew Neff. American Decorative Arts and Paintings in the Bayou Bend Collection. Houston: Princeton Univ. Press, 1998.


Cataloguing data may change with further research.

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Artist
Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin, French, 1770–1852
Title
Portrait of a Man
Date
c. 1804
Medium
Black chalk heightened with white on pink paper
Dimensions
Sheet: 21 1/2 × 15 1/2 in. (54.6 × 39.4 cm)
Credit Line

The Bayou Bend Collection, gift of Miss Ima Hogg

Current Location
Not on view
Accession Number
B.59.52
Classification
Drawings, Pastels & Watercolors
Provenance

Acquired by Miss Ima Hogg on February 27, 1959, from Old Print Shop, Inc., NYC