Miniature painting

by Jean-Baptiste Singry

August 2015

Nationalmuseum has added a work by the French artist Jean-Baptiste Singry (1782–1824) to its renowned collection of miniatures. With this masterful portrait of the actor Antoine Michaut, the artist was trying to compete with larger-format oil paintings. This ambition was especially evident during the final heyday of miniature painting in the first half of the 19th century.

Jean-Baptiste Singry was among the most prominent pupils of Jean-Baptiste Isabey. He acquired great technical skill early in his career, and his characterization of human subjects often rivalled that of his teacher. Besides commissions for members of the social elite, Singry specialized in portraits of actors. His depiction of the much-loved Michaut not only exhibits the aforementioned qualities but is also a match for larger-format oil paintings. In this work, the artist used the conventional method of painting on a piece of flat-sawn ivory.

Antoine Michaut (aka Michot, 1765–1826) was hired by the Comédie-Française, France’s national theatre, in 1790, the year of the French Revolution. He continued to perform there periodically until retiring in 1821, by which time he had achieved immense popularity as a character actor, especially in peasant and servant roles. Michaut’s long career, beginning in 1781, is particularly remarkable given the political upheavals during this period. He was heavily involved in the French Revolution and later became close to Empress Joséphine. Nevertheless, Michaut remained popular during the Bourbon Restoration and was able to retire a wealthy man.

Singry’s colourful portrait depicts Michaut in one of his signature roles, Captain Copp in Alexandre Duval’s comedy La Jeunesse de Henri V, a medieval romance premiered at the Comédie-Française in 1806. Singry painted the portrait a decade later and exhibited the first version, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, at the 1819 Salon. Nationalmuseum’s new acquisition is one of two known replicas produced by the artist and was formerly part of Ernst Holzscheiter’s celebrated collection. The purchase of this work has been made possible by a donation from the Hedda and N.D. Qvist Fund. Nationalmuseum has no budget of its own for new acquisitions, but relies on gifting and financial support from private funds and foundations to enhance its collections of fine art and craft.

Inventory number: NMB 2686

Picture: Jean-Baptiste Singry, Portrait of the Actor Antoine Michaut.

Jean-Baptiste Singry, Portrait of the Actor Antoine Michaut. Larger picture.


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