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Saint-Memin, Charles B.J.F.

Saint-Memin was not a professional artist when he came to the United States as a political refugee from his native France in 1793. He was, however, a talented amateur draughtsman and he put this skill to good use during the two decades he resided in America. He formed a partnership in 1796 with Thomas Bluget de Valdenuit, to draw portraits in profile using a device called a physiognotrace, which allowed an artist to make a very precise drawing of a person’s profile. Valdenuit returned to France in 1798, but Saint-Memin had a very successful career, taking likenesses in this distinctive manner of almost everybody who was anybody in federal America. Before beginning a drawing he coated the front of a piece of imported rag paper with a pink wash in order to create a smoother surface on which to draw. With the aid of the physiognotrace, he then drew the sitter’s profile in black chalk, afterwards adding the person’s features in black and white chalks. The result was a very accurate likeness and a much more interesting, detailed, and lively characterization than a mere silhouette. Saint-Memin traveled from New York City to Charleston, South Carolina, taking portraits, and worked in Baltimore at various times between 1803 and 1807. His portraits, with its strong, vigorous draughtsmanship, captured his subject’s character. Nearly a thousand Americans sat for portraits, among them Thomas Jefferson, Paul Revere, Mother Seton, Meriwether Lewis, and Charles Willson Peale. No items found.