Saint-Memin - portrait of Christopher Grant Champlin

Although this miniature portrait is engraved (the diameter is 57 mm), rather than painted, it does represent an important example of a technique used to create miniature portraits in the United States between the years 1796 and 1810.

In 1793 Charles Balthazar Julien Fevret de Saint-Memin (1770-1852) emigrated to the United States, via Canada, after his family lost their land and possessions as a result of the French Revolution.

In New York City Saint-Memin taught himself engraving and in 1796 went into partnership with another emigre to introduce the technique of Physiognotrace, whereby a portrait was drawn using the device, then coloured, with multiple copies being made after the portrait was engraved.

The subject of this portrait was unknown by the vendor. However, by reference to the excellent biography and catalogue of Saint-Memin's work, prepared by Ellen G Miles, it was possible to identify the sitter (see the last image in this description). Ellen Miles deserves considerable congratulations for the book. Only very few other miniature portrait artists are the subject of dedicated texts, they include Malbone, Dickinson, and Fraser. This volume ranks ahead of them and is an example of the type of reference book needed to help cover the large gaps in available research on miniature portraiture.

Below the portrait there is an engraved imprint which reads "Drawn & engrd by St Memin Philada".

The sitter is Colonel Christopher Grant Champlin (1768-1840) who was educated in France and at Harvard. He served Rhode Island as a representative from 1797-1801 and as a senator from 1809-1811. He was the oldest child and only son of Christopher Champlin. By the 1790's he had graduated from Harvard, and was sent on a European tour to "refine" him and ready him for a merchant's life. He returned, settled to New York and lost a fortune in stock speculation, almost ruining his father. He returned to Newport, where he married Martha Redwood Ellery (1772- ) in 1793. He continued to assist his father in business, and in 1796, decided to run for Congress.

Like his father, CGC used opportunities for financial reward. For example, many of his friends he met while in Europe became contacts for trade, or financial partners. Also, to help his chances for winning a seat, CGC swore that he had not speculated in southern lands and would not use his office to help his investment. In reality, CGC had speculated heavily in the Tennessee Company with his Harvard College friend, Nathaniel Prince (Prime?). He was elected and served in Congress from 1797 to 180l. During his tenure, he participated in a duel with a South Carolina congressman, James A. Bayard. Various family papers are available at 1. Historical note 2. Scope and content 3. Provenance 4 ...

In 1815 he became Colonel of the Artillery Company of the town of Newport and after a disastrous storm the town council passed the following resoultion;"Voted and resolved that the thanks of the town Council be presented to Colonel C. G. Champlin and the officers and privates of the Artillery Company of the town of Newport under his command for the prompt attention they paid to the request of said town council to turn out and guard the property of the unfortunate sufferers in the late destructive storm, and for their good conduct while on duty." see Artillery Company History Circa 1889 He is buried at Christopher Grant Champlin (1768 - 1840) - Find A Grave Memorial

Records have established the portrait was paid for on May 12 1800. The cost was $37.00 for the picture in frame and two dozen small copper plate impressions. It also appears Champlin paid a further dollar for another dozen impressions. Preumably, the images were used an an early form of political advertising.

This particular portrait is also reproduced on page 139 in the 1898 book entitled "Heirlooms in Miniature" by Anne Hollingsworth Wharton. This book mentions many people from early 19C and is illustrated with many images of miniature portraits on ivory.

Wharton uses this particular Champlin portrait to illustrate the process, which she describes in detail. "A French engraver, named Queneday, had invented a machine for this purpose, and Saint Memin constructed his from his recollection of Queneday's physionotrace (sic). Saint Memin's profiles, as we are familiar with them today. have the effect of fine engravings made from miniature portraits. They were in reality first drawn life-size on flesh-tinted paper by the physionotrace, and were afterwards finished in crayon."

"The pantograph reduced the large profiles to the size required for the plate, the portrait being drawn in a perfect circle a little more than two inches in diameter. Having thus obtained a correct outline, the details were worked up by the graver, the shadows being finished with a roulette, which was one of M de Saint-Memin's inventions".

This image of Champlin is also depicted as part of an extensive article about "Heirlooms in Miniature" by Anne Hollingsworth Wharton, which is featured in the New York Times of Jul 3, 1898 see MINIATURES AS ARTWORKS AND AS DOCUMENTS.*

Christopher Champlin's daughter Margaret, "Peggy", was described by Wharton as one of a "distinct type of American beauty...which proved dangerous to the hearts of many British officers who were stationed in New York" and later to "our French allies". Wharton comments specifically, "Miss Peggy wounded her victims, foreign and domestic, with the ruthlessness which belonged to her age and sex before she finally bestowed her heart and hand upon her fellow-townsman, Dr Benjamin Mason."

Miss Peggy was also described by the Prince de Broglie, "the house of Mr Champlin, well known for his wealth, but much more known in the army for the lovely face of his daughter. It is useless to say that we examined her with attention, which was to treat her handsomely, for the result of our observations was to find that she had beautiful eyes, an agreeable mouth, a lovely face, a fine figure, a pretty foot, and the general effect altogether attractive. She added to all these advantages that of being dressed and coiffee with taste, that is to say in the French fashion, - besides which she spoke and understood our language."

Wharton also comments "Margaret Champlin, in addition to being a belle and a beauty, was a good patriot and was one of the original members of the "Daughters of Liberty".

By an uncanny coincidence, Margaret Champlin, was the mother of Elizabeth Champlin Mason, who married Oliver Hazard Perry and may be the lady in the watercolor miniature included in this collection and shown at Unknown - portrait of naval officer and wife 1278

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