Henri, Pierre - portrait of a lady

This interesting miniature is unsigned but was inially attributed to Jean-Francois Vallee who was active in America from 1785-1826. Vallee worked in Charleston, Boston, Philadelphia, and New Orleans.

I was later contacted by a miniature portrait scholar who doubted that it is by Vallee. I readily accept that correction. Especially as a signed miniature of a young man by Vallee, as showing on the right below, has since been acquired for the collection. For more about it see View

Another possibility is Pierre Henri who painted larger heads and placed them higher on the ivory.

With the later acquisition of another miniature portrait by Pierre Henri, of John Glover Cowell, (for more see View ) as showing on the left below, Henri now seems to be a reasonable choice for the attribution. There is similar facial colouring, detail in the clothing, the general pose, and, although not showing here, the gold casework is similar, although the Colwell miniature has a plain, rather than a bright-cut bezel.

Overall, the painting style of the miniature of the lady is of an artist trained in France. They often painted solid backgrounds, whereas American and British trained artists tended to paint the background in watercolor. The background here being a solid maroon-brown color and painted in gouache. However, the artist has made maximum use of the ivory base for the sitter's bonnet, face, and shawl by the minimum use of color.

There were a few French trained artists working in America at the turn of the century, generally being people who had fled from the French Revolution. They included Joseph-Pierre Picot de Limoelan de Cloriviere, Jean Pierre Henri Elouis, Geslain, Pierre Henri, Phillippe Abraham Peticolas, Jean-Francois de la Vallee.

By a process of elimination from this group, Henri is felt to be the most likely artist to have painted the miniature. However, other opinions are very welcome.

From the costume, the miniature has been dated as around 1800. The bonnet is very similar to two other early American miniatures in the collection. One of Mary Ball Gordon with a black ribbon in her bonnet and Mary Green Marshall with a blue and white ribbon in her bonnet.

There are very few American miniatures where the sitters are shown wearing bonnets like this and James Peale was one artist who did depict sitters in this manner.

Based upon its construction, the case is regarded as American for the following reasons. The reverse of the case is plain gold. The original hanger is missing, but there is a tiny loop at the top so it could be hung from a necklace or chain. The front bezel which is underneath the glass, is hand-worked in gold.

The miniature was slightly tilted to the right of vertical as it was framed. When these factors are taken together they give the impression of the case having been made in Philadelphia by a local artisan unfamiliar with the techniques and skill required to make a case. The case being amateurish in some respects.

The sitter is unknown. 1286

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