The son of a cloth manufacturer from Rheims, Périn left the countryside for Paris to pursue a career in miniature painting. Although his father wanted him to become a priest, and four older brothers were already working in the textiles industry, he followed his heart and enrolled in drawing classes with a local watercolourist called Jean-Francois Clermont. (Fig. 1. Louis Lié Périn, Self-portrait, oil on canvas, circa 1790, Cleveland Art Museum, USA.)
After moving to Paris in 1778, taking a risk without financial backing from a patron (or his family) he enjoyed a fast-growing reputation as a miniaturist among Parisian aristocracy. A huge boost to his career came from a commission to paint miniature versions of several paintings by the Swedish portrait painter Alexander Roslin and by 1781, he had acquired a reputation as fine artist and was able to exhibit his works at the Salon. Although he liked to call himself the “painter of the bourgeoisie”, his clients included several high-ranking sitters.
This changed with the start of the Revolution, when he was forced to abandon several ambitious projects and returned to miniature painting, often called into prisons to sketch those facing the guillotine. By now he had acquired a small fortune, but the conversion to paper money rendered it virtually worthless. Concern for his wife, Anne-Félicité, and their two children led him to leave Paris and return to Reims in 1799. She entered the family’s textile business, but he remained a painter and would occasionally visit Paris, the city of his artistic success.
Their son, Alphonse, also displayed some artistic talent, so he taught him to draw from life, then sent him to Paris to study with Pierre-Narcisse Guérin and Jean-Victor Bertin.
The present work is typical of his technique, showing his confident use of watercolour both in describing the background trees and flowers in a looser manner than the sitter’s features. Although the sitter is unknown, the portrait was likely painted in the autumn, as the sitter wears a fur-lined hat. Painted around the start of the Revolution, Salbreux’s portrait exudes a peaceful existence at a time of extreme political turmoil.