ISABEY, Jean-Baptist
(b. 1767, Nancy, d. 1855, Paris)


Painter, draughtsman and printmaker. He trained in Nancy with Jean Girardet (d 1778) and then with Jean-Baptiste-Charles Claudot (1733-1805), master of the miniaturist Jean-Baptiste Augustin. In 1785 he went to Paris, where he began by painting snuff-boxes. In 1786 he received lessons from the painter François Dumont, who had also studied with Girardet in Nancy, before entering the studio of David. Although he had received aristocratic commissions before the Revolution to paint portrait miniatures of the Duc d'Angouleme and Duc de Berry and through them of Marie-Antoinette, he did not suffer in the political upheavals that followed. He executed 228 portraits of deputies for a work on the Assemblée Législative and from 1793 exhibited miniatures and drawings in the Salon.

Success came to him in 1794 with two drawings in the 'maniere noire', The Departure and The Return. This type of drawing, using pencil and the stump to simulate engraving, was very fashionable in the last years of the 18th century and reached its peak with Isabey's The Boat (exhibited Salon 1798; Paris, Louvre), an informal scene including a self-portrait, in which the artist exploited contrasts of light and shade with considerable success.

Patronized by Josephine and Napoleon, he arranged the ceremonies of their coronation and prepared drawings for the publication intended as its official commemoration, a work for which he was paid by Louis XVIII, whose portrait (engraved, Debucourt) he executed in 1814. Although Isabey did homage to Napoleon on his return from Elba, he continued to enjoy the favour of the Restoration, and took part in arrangements for the coronation of Charles X.

The monarchy of July conferred on him an important post in connection with the royal collections, and Napoleon III granted him a pension, and the cross of commander of the Legion of Honour. Review of Troops by the First Consul was one of his most important compositions. His portrait of Napoleon at Malmaison is held to be the best ever executed, and even his tiny head of the king of Rome, painted for a breast-pin, is distinguished by a decision and breadth which evidence the hand of a master.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.