Biography of Jean Baptiste Isabey (1767-1855)

French painter, born in Nancy on April 11, 1767 and died in Paris on April 18, 1855. It gained celebrity for his portraits of Napoleon and Josefina, as well as their excellent thumbnails.

Isabey began his studies of painting in Nancy, where he/she came in the workshop of Jean Girardet and subsequently the Claudot. Encouraged by the cultural environment of the capital, in 1785 he/she moved to Paris where he/she studied under the tutelage of the great French neo-classical painter David Jacques-Louis. This master it assimilated the main features of neoclassicism. Its success was immediate, and soon began to receive commissions from María Antonieta, wife of Luis XVI and the rest of his court, which increased his fame as a portraitist.

François Napoleon Joseph Charles Bonaparte, Duke of Reichstadt (oil on canvas, 1832-40). Victoria and Albert Museum (London, England)

In 1789, at the outbreak of the French Revolution, Isabey survived the political avatars that could carry their relations with the monarchy and aristocracy, and thanks above all to its master David, his success continued to receive the assignment to portray the members of the Convention. During the period of the Convention, it was one of the most important figures of the cultural landscape of the capital, where he/she frequented the salons of madame Tallien, madame Récamier, madame Staël fashion and on all the of madame Bonaparte.

He simultanesus his pictorial activity with numerous others, always tinged with their relationship with the Bonapartes. He/She was Professor of drawing of the Beauharnais of his daughters Eugenia and Hortensia. But perhaps the most striking of his extrapictoricas activities, was his responsibility for the Organization of the coronation of Napoleon (portrayed by J.L.David) and numerous celebrations given by the Emperor and his consort Josefina. To complete this ceremony, the Emperor commissioned him also 32 paintings (now preserved in the Louvre, Paris) in which the coronation is magnified. In this section, counted with the help of his teacher, David, who had experience in the same field, since he/she had organized many public events during the revolutionary period. Therefore, in 1804 he/she was appointed painter of the Emperor's Cabinet and then first painter of Empress Josefina camera. He/She also served as master of ceremony and Foreign Affairs, linked with the activities of the Court. Then data their work Napoleon at Malmaison (National Museum of Versailles), his most famous portrait of the emperor.

He also worked the porcelain as an Illustrator from 1809, when he/she was called to work at the manufactory of Sèvres porcelain. About this material he/she made works as a table of the marshals (Museum of Malmaison). His collaborations with the Sevres factory continued during the reign of Luis Felipe and he/she even directing the study of artists who worked for the factory.

Moved to portray the family of the Emperor in Vienna during the year 1812, the Minister, Talleyrand named official painter of the Congress of Vienna, where he/she remained until in 1815 he/she returned to Paris.

Always linked to the ups and downs of French politics in the first half of the 19th French, Isabey moved to London during the restoration where he/she made many portraits, such as during their stay in Vienna commissioned by Talleyrand. He/She returned to Paris in 1920 to be named by Luis XVIII painter of Chamber performances, charges that had already played for the Royal House.

Until his death in 1855 his services were rewarded with numerous awards, including his position as curator of the Royal Museums during the reign of Luis Felipe or the title granted by Carlos X as officer of the Legion of honour, as well as the post of painter of Cabinet.

The multidisciplinary aspect of the work of Jean-Baptiste Isabey is even more amazing if reference is made to his facet as cartoonist for the characters who portrayed, works that although he/she tried to remain anonymous, were crucial in the work of painters like Goya. They passed through his workshop as disciples Clara Montalba, Boilly and his own son, Eugène Isabey (1803-1886) who devoted himself to historical painting and participated in the expedition of Algiers in 1830 as a draftsman.

View of the Normandy coast (oil on canvas, 1852). Museum of fine arts, Houston (Texas, United States)


ESPINOSA MARTÍN, Carmen. Lightings, small portraits and miniatures, (Madrid; Fundación Lázaro Galdiano, 1999).