Charles Balthazar St Memin - Chief of the Little Osages

St Memin Chief of the Little Osages - small ds 1518
Chief of the Little Osages by St Memin

This miniature portrait is a little larger than most miniatures in this collection, but is believed genuine.

It was acquired on Ebay from a reputable London UK art dealer who described it, "This picture was purchased from a folder of prints and drawing at my local Sunday antique market recently, this is the only provenance I have for the piece  therefore I am offering the drawing as after St Memin." 

The portrait was offered at an opening bid of $225 and acquired at a price a little above that.

There are already in this collection a couple of St Memin engravings, and my library includes a copy of the comprehensive St Memin catalogue (460 pages) prepared by Ellen G. Miles. Hence, there was some confidence in being prepared to take a calculated risk.

By comparison with other Indian portraits by St Memin, before bidding it was possible to come to a preliminary opinion the portrait was possibly genuine. This opinion was reinforced when the miniature arrived. The quality being too good for a fake, especially when offered for sale at $225.
After the auction closed, I did ask the dealer if he had communicated with anyone in USA about it, but he replied he had not.

NYHS St Memin Chief of the Little Osages large
In referring to the catalogue, the portrait appears as a final, but smaller version of large one owned by NYHS, Cat. 161 (Fig. 7-22), but in red and black chalk, and on watermarked paper. These portraits were sketched by St Memin of the Osages who were with the first delegation to Washington in 1804.

St-Memin used a device that projected the subject's images onto paper and then were traced, so their outlines were perfectly represented. The smaller portraits were probably made by reversing the process, to sketch the smaller portrait by copying the larger portraits.

The size of ds 1518 is 7.5 x 5.5 inches, which is similar to these other small portraits in the catalogue, Cat. 162 (7.25 x 6.5in), Cat. 634 (7.25 x 6 5/16in), Cat. 636 (7.25 x 6.75in), Cat. 637 (5 7/8 x 4.25in), Cat. 746 (7.25 x 6.5in), and Cat. 976 (7.25 x 6.25in). Thus, they are all likely all cut down from larger sheets.

When held to the light, there is a sideways part watermark on ds 1518, very similar, but not identical, to fig. 4.8. On the edge are several stitch holes similar to those on Cat. 633.  See the images further below

The six smaller portraits above are watercolours, rather than chalk, and in looking through the catalogue I see Indian portraits in black and white chalk, but not obviously in red and black chalk. I am inclined to the opinion that the NYHS version was a preliminary portrait, with the medium one below as a version in red and black, reduced in size, and ds 1518 as the final version in red and black chalk. 

As with his portraits of colonists, St Memin drew his Indian portraits using a machine to get a large and accurate profile. This was then hand coloured with watercolour paints. The outline could then be reproduced via a pantograph on a reduced scale. Thus, his miniature portraits would have been reproduced in that manner, with this one hand-coloured in chalk rather than using watercolours.

The signature appears similar to genuine items, but I accept a signature is often the last item to consider in attributing an artwork.The signature in at the extreme bottom right, whereas the Christies version is at middle left. The re-positioning being selected to give a better balance. It is also likely any fake would seek to show the signature in the same position as on the Christies version.

Christies 30/1/1997 medium
I note another version of the portrait at 

This has marginally less detail than ds 1518, and a similar signature, but placed at centre left, rather than bottom right. I do not know where that version currently resides, but that link appears to refer to the portrait offered by Christies, where the medium is also red and black chalk. .

Interestingly it is reportedly 12.4in by 7.7in, i.e. a sheet of paper which, if cut in half, would give two pieces, each close to the size of the version here, and to the other six noted above. 

It was offered by Christies as lot 215 on 30 January 1997 with an estimate of $8,000-12,000, but appears to have been unsold. 

It was described as:

Reverse of ds 1518
Allowing for the extra width and depth on the medium image, I am of the opinion the actual heads of the medium and small miniatures are the same size. The small portrait is a little more complete, with more detail on the earring and the neckwear.

Accordingly, I am currently of the opinion that ds 1518 is a reduced, but final version of the larger versions.

With an apology to Ellen Miles for raising it, I do hope she will not regard me as impertinent, in suggesting that I tend to doubt, on pages 150-51, that Cat. 161. and Cat 162 in her catalogue are both the same sitter, at there are distinct differences.

Presumably NYHS has, for many years, claimed they are the same sitter? I sense 162 is related, via a similar profile, perhaps father or uncle, but he appears to be older than 161.

Apart from different clothing, the top of his hair leans a different way, his pig-tail is shorter, and his earring different. Also, a second covered pigtail is more clearly seen in the attached version of 161, whereas in 162 the second pigtail is uncovered.

St Memin ds 1518 watermark
Thus at present, although not yet 100% certain, I currently lean towards the ds 1518 miniature portrait as being genuine, based on the quality, the watermark, the technique, the paper, the size, the signature, and the appearance as a final version of both Cat 161 and the medium version.

It seems likely St Memin prepared the reduced portraits in answer to client requests for copies. It therefore seems very possible there are more similar copies still unlocated. Hopefully, this brief essay may aid in bringing them to public attention.
St Memin ds 1518 signature

A possible explanation for the portrait being found in London, England, is that it was more easily transported than the large, preliminary drawings, and may have been acquired by a British collector in New York and taken to England.

However, I would be grateful for any other thoughts on this St Memin portrait. ds 1518.

A Separate Portrait
The Metropolitan Museum holds a portrait of a different chief which is helpful in analysis of the above Osage portrait, it is described as;

 "Osage Warrior" is based on a drawing that Saint-Mémin made with a physionotrace, a device that mechanically reproduced an outline of a sitter’s profile. The artist then transferred the image to this sheet and painted it in watercolor, rendering his subject’s individualized facial features with delicate stippling and cross-hatching. The warrior wears beaded wampum ear-drops and silver ear rim bands, and his scalp is shaved except for a dyed lock of hair."

"Object Details
Artist: Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin (1770–1852)
Date: 1805–7
Geography: Made in France
Culture: American
Medium: Watercolor and graphite on off-white wove paper
Dimensions: 7 1/4 x 6 7/16 in. (18.4 x 16.4 cm)
Classification: Drawings
Credit Line: The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1954
Accession Number: 54.82"

 Sir Augustus John Foster; sale, Sotheby's, London, November 18, 1926, lot 635; with Goodspeed's Book Shop, Boston, 1927; Mr. and Mrs. Luke Vincent Lockwood, until 1954; sale, Parke-Bernet, New York, May 13-15, 1954, lot 438.

The provenance implies the portrait was part of a collection in London accumulated by Sir Augustus John Foster, 1st Baronet, GCH PC (1 or 4 December 1780 – 1 August 1848), a British diplomat and politician. Born into a notable British family, Foster served in a variety of diplomatic functions in continental Europe and the United States, interrupted by a short stint as a Member of Parliament. In 1805 he was sent to the United States as the Secretary to British legation, leaving in 1807 to become British chargé d'affaires, Stockholm, Sweden from 1808 to 1810. He was sent back to America in 1811 as Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States, but returned to Britain in 1812 with the outbreak of the War of 1812, where he was promptly elected by Cockermouth, England to the House of Commons. 

Ending his service in Turin and his career in the British diplomatic service in 1840, Foster began drafting his Notes on the United States of America. Foster died in 1848 after cutting his throat at Branksea Castle; he had suffered from delirium because of poor health, and his death was ruled as the result of temporary insanity. His Notes on the United States of America would be rediscovered in a cupboard of his family's home in Northern Ireland in the 1930s, and published posthumously. 

The Metropolitan portrait is in watercolour and graphite, but the paper type and size is similar to ds1518. The signature is also similar, but with the addition of Fecit. One may deduce St Memin drew or painted versions of his portraits for sale to diplomats and other interested persons, with the price varying depending on crayon or watercolour. Likely selling preliminary sketches for lesser sums. While ds1518 is not claimed to have been in the Foster collection, his career offers a credible parallel as to how one of his staff may have purchased ds1518 in 1805-07, and it later ended up in a bundle of drawings and prints purchased from a dealer in London.

Another Portrait
A similar small portrait is owned by the NY Historical Society. It is interesting that both watercolour small portraits have the earrings complete, whereas ds 1518 has more obviously a sketch of the earring, implying it as an earlier, working, sketch. The NYHS portrait was Lot 439 and is described;

Unidentified Chief of the Little Osage ("Soldat du Chêne" ["Soldier of the Oak"?])

Object Number: 1954.101
Date: 1807
Medium: Watercolor, gouache, black ink, and graphite on paper, mounted on card
Dimensions: Overall: 7 1/4 x 6 3/8 in. ( 18.4 x 16.2 cm )
Marks: Signed and inscribed at lower left in black ink: "St. Memin fecit."; verso of old mount inscribed at upper center in brown ink: "Ozage"
Inscriptions: Signed and inscribed at lower left in black ink: "St. Memin fecit."; verso of old mount inscribed at upper center in brown ink: "Ozage"
Credit Line: Abbott Fund, with the help of Forsythe Wicks, John E. Parsons, and Edmund Astley Prentis
Provenance: Sir Augustus John Foster, Washington D.C.; descent through Foster's family; Sotheby's, London, 1826; Godspeed's Bookshop, Boston, 1927; Mr. And Mrs. Luke Vincent Lockwood, Greenwich, Conn.; Sold Parke-Bernet Gallery, Luke Vincent Lockwood Sale, item #439, May 13-15, 1954



It is interesting to compare the above portraits with a portrait offered in March 2019 at auction by Skinners, and described as George Washington by St Memin. The description of the lot is as further below. 

I would have to say, I have some doubts about the Skinner portrait, as the signature is so different to the examples on the above St Memin's Chief of the Little Osage portrait and other in the Ellen Miles catalogue.

The signature is different, being more upright. St Memin did elsewhere add Fct, i.e. Fecit, to examples of his other signatures, such as Fig. 7.29 on page 157 of Ellen Miles Catalogue.On that portrait, the St Memin signature is similar to ds 1518 above.

Washington by St Memin
The Skinner portrait of Washington appears to be a copy based upon the Washington portrait Fig 5:17 on page 101 in the Miles catalogue, but there are distinct differences of detail, and the overall style looks too modern to be by St Memin. That Miles portrait has no clouds in the background and is described as;

 "Saint-Memin, George Washington, black and white chalk on paper, 1800. Unlocated; reproduced from Elizabeth Bryant Johnston, Original Portraits of Washington (Boston, 1882), plate 20 [Cat. no. 920]"
An engraving, presumably based on that black and white portrait in chalk, is in the National Gallery of Art. It varies from the Skinner portrait is minor details, e.g. the number of button holes on his collar, and the portion of the epaulette showing. However, those alterations raise queries.
Two Skinner posts commenting on this and other Washington portraits are on their website; 

The Enduring Legacy and Likeness of George Washington and President’s Day and

Auction Preview: American Furniture & Decorative Arts at Skinner

The Skinner portrait was offered in this Auction: American Furniture & Decorative Arts - 3222B
Location:Boston Date / Time :March 02, 2019 10:00AM


Charles Balthazar Julien Fevret de Saint-Memin (New York, Philadelphia, France, 1770-1852)

Washintgon with spurious St Memin signature
Miniature Portrait of General George Washington
Signed and dated "C de Memin Ft./1798" along the left edge.
Watercolor and gouache on paper, 2 5/8 x 2 1/8 in., in a molded gilt-brass frame with textured mat and liner.
Condition: The mount with the image is separated from the frame, no obvious damage or retouch.

Provenance: The family in which the miniature descended is related to General Jacob Morgan (1742-1802). Morgan was born in Berks County, Pennsylvania. He moved to Philadelphia in the 1760s and became a successful merchant. In December 1776 he was appointed Colonel and commander of the 1st Battalion of Associators of the City of Philadelphia. He fought in the Battles of Princeton and Monmouth. After the war, he returned to private business and ran one of the country's first sugar refineries. 
Note: Charles Balthazar Julien Fevret de Saint-Memin is credited with having made the last portrait of George Washington taken from life. In November 1798, Washington visited Philadelphia to take command of the army for the impending war with France. Saint-Memin was in Philadelphia at the time and made arrangements with Washington to make a portrait. The present whereabouts of that portrait is unknown.

In this portrait, Washington is depicted bust length, facing to the left and wearing a blue General's uniform with buff facings and gold epaulette. The background consists of a sky mottled in tones of blue and brown. 

Estimate $15,000-25,000 "

Before the auction I expressed doubts about the portrait to Skinners, and received a reply as below:

6 March 2019 - Dear Mr. Shelton,

Thank you for your note regarding lot 47. To date the portrait has been examined in person by a large number of knowledgeable individuals who have seen no reason to question the portrait's authenticity. We can also note that it has descended in the consignor's family since the 18th century.



Later July 2019 - the portrait at the Skinner auction was reportedly sold for $67,000, but an observant collector has pointed out that Skinners now list the lot on their website as "Unsold". Thus, it seems other experts on St Memin shared doubts about the Washington portrait, and the sale failed.

Later July 2019 - the portrait was next offered for auction by Skinners on August 12, 2019.
Later - the Skinners website reports a sale price of $1698 for the Washington portrait, presumably a hammer price of $1300, plus buyer's commission of 23% or $368. Still quite a strong price, but it recognises the portrait now has some extra and "interesting" history to accompany it.

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