Federal Profiles

Saint-Mémin in America 1793-1814

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Between 1796 and 1810, Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin (1770-1852) created some of the most memorable images in the history of American portraiture. 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.

A member of the French hereditary nobility, Saint-Mémin came to New York City in 1793, at the age of twenty-three. He was a former military officer exiled by the events of the French Revolution. In New York, Saint-Mémin turned to the arts to support himself, his parents, and his sister. With some training in drawing 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.

Read more about the work and life of St. Mémin
View Image Gallery of St. Mémin engravings, 1793 to 1814, courtesy National Portrait Gallery

Review the Exhibition List of the St. Mémin Collection at the National Portrait Gallery