Henry Walter Livingston. by [SAINT-MÉMIN, Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de.

Henry Walter Livingston. by [SAINT-MÉMIN, Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de. < >

~ Henry Walter Livingston. 1804 or 5].

Engraved circular portrait (etching and aquatint) after a physionotrace, 70 ×65 mm (sheet size 119 × 96 mm). Later pencil caption.

A rare physionotrace portrait of Henry Walter Livingston (June 12, 1768 – December 22, 1810) a United States Representative from the state of New York. He graduated from Yale College in 1786 where he studied law and was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in New York City. He was private secretary to Gouverneur Morris, American Minister Plenipotentiary to Paris, France, 1792-1794; judge of the court of common pleas of Columbia County, N.Y.; member of the State assembly in 1802 and again in 1810; elected as a Federalist to the Eighth and Ninth Congresses (March 4, 1803-March 3, 1807). He died at his home in Livingston, New York on December 22, 1810 and is interred with his wife in a vault there.

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). The process was introduced to America by Charles Saint-Mémin.

The miniaturist Saint-Mémin (1770-1852) had emigrated from France in 1793 to Switzerland, where he practised 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.

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