Jean-Baptiste Isabey: The French Painter of Portrait Miniatures
Portraying the French rulers and producing a great number of portrait miniatures of European emperors, done on ivory or on paper stretched over sheets of metal through fluent brushwork, the French painter, Jean-Baptiste Isabey, is celebrated as the most prominent French miniaturist of the early nineteenth century.
Born in Nancy on April 11, 1767, Isabey was highly acclaimed for his portrait “Napoleon at Malmaison”, which is considered one of best likenesses of the emperor. At the age of nineteen, after taking some lessons from Dumont, Isabey studied under the celebrated French Neoclassical painter, Jacques-Louis David and received one of his first commissions from Marie-Antoinette, Louis XVI’s consort.
Despite his original connections with the monarchy, Isabey created 228 portraits of deputies for a work on the Legislative Assembly during the Revolution. Patronized by Napoleon and Josephine, he arranged the ceremonies of their coronation and prepared 32 drawings, intended as an official commemoration of the event.
Isabey had an immense success at the Salon of 1820 with “Isabeys’s Boat”, a drawing of himself and his family. During the reign of King Louis-Philippe (1830-48), he directed the artists’ studio at the Sevres porcelain factory.
Less known than the portraits are Isabey’s caricatures of many famous European politicians of the first half of the 19th century. Though most of these remained unpublished, they were known to many artists of the time. The genre painter Eugene Isabey (1804-86) was his son and student.
A biography of Isabey was published by Edmond Taigny in 1859, and Charles Lenormant’s article, written for Michaud’s Biog. Univ. is founded on facts furnished by Isabey’s family.
Jean-Baptiste Isabey died April 18, 1855.