[SAINT-MÉMIN, Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de. ~ Hannah BRECK. Philadelphia, 1799].
Engraved oval portrait (etching and aquatint) after a physionotrace, 72 ×65 mm (sheet size 130 × 104 mm). Later pencil caption
A rare ‘physionotrace’ portrait of Hannah Breck (1772-1846, later Mrs James Lloyd). The original charcoal and white chalk drawing from which it was engraved is preserved at the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts. Hannah Breck was daughter of statesman Samuel Breck (1747-1809), and sister to Samuel Breck (1771-1862), a congressman from Pennsylvania. She married James Lloyd (1769-1831), a senator from Massachusetts, and is referred to as Anna or Hannah in various sources.
Before the advent of photography the physionotrace was ‘the first system invented to produce multiple copies of a portrait, invented in 1786 by Gilles-Louis Chrétien (1774–1811). In his apparatus a profile cast by a lamp onto a glass plate was traced by an operator using a pointer connected, by a system of levers like a pantograph, to an engraving tool moving over a copper plate. The aquatint and roulette finished engraved intaglio plate, usually circular and small (50 mm), with details of features and costume, could be inked and printed many times’ (Photoconservation.com, sub Printing Processes).
Saint-Mémin (1770-1852) had emigrated from France in 1793 to Switzerland, where he practiced as an engraver. Crossing the Atlantic to Canada and then the United States, he established a portrait business in New York with his compatriot Thomas Bluget de Valdenuit (who initially produced the drawings for Saint-Mémin to engrave). When Valdenuit returned to Paris, Saint-Mémin adopted an itinerant practice all over the East Coast states, working variously at Philadelphia, Richmond, Charleston and Burlington. He too returned to France in 1814, having destroyed his drawing apparatus in a symbolic end to a prolific artistic enterprise which produced more than a thousand different portraits of significant figures in American society, including Washington, Revere and Jefferson. Dexter, The St. Memin Collection of Portraits (New York, 1862), 24; Miles, Saint-Mémin and the Neoclassical Profile Portrait in America (Washington, 1994), 83.