Jean-Baptiste Isabey (1767-1855)
Jean-Baptiste Isabey is probably the most famous of all French miniaturists
Jean-Baptiste Isabey was one of the most important French portrait miniature painters of the nineteenth century. Although the sitter in this work is at present unknown, she is dressed in the height of French fashion with a tailored brown redingote and tilted blue bonnet.
Jean-Baptiste Isabey is probably the most famous of all French miniaturists, linked to the court initially through his training with Francois Dumont, miniaturist to Marie Antoinette. His training with Jacques-Louis David channelled his natural talent and like most great artists his works evolved in distinctive phases. This portrait is typical of Isabey’s distinctive early style. Dating from circa 1790, it has much in common with the miniature of Mademoiselle de Salienne in the Louvre, Paris. The soft treatment of the face, the dark background and the complex composition all relate to Isabey’s portraits of this date.
His impressive list of patrons began with Queen Marie Antoinette, whom he painted around the same time as this portrait of an unknown lady, but he soon lost his aristocratic clientele at the outbreak of the Revolution. David introduced him to new patrons – members of the New Regime – and he is now best known for his portrait miniatures of Napoleon, Josephine and their extended families – his affectionate nickname was “the little court painter” or “the painter of Kings”. He has left a legacy of beautiful and intimate images of himself and his family – his most famous of these – La Barque d’Isabey – being engraved and shown at the Salon of 1820.
Under the Directoire he attended the Salons of Mme Tallien, Mme de Stael and Mme Récamier. In 1805 he became first master of the Empress, extending his position to become the drawing master to Hortense and Eugène de Beauharnais. His fame was at its height during this time and he involved himself with designs for opera stage sets, organising great feasts for the Emperor and was eventually the master planner for Napoleon’s the coronation ceremony.
Later in his life, Napoleon III awarded Isabey a pension and the cross of commander of the Legion of Honor. He died in Paris in 1855.