Jean Urbain Guerin was one of the most celebrated French portrait miniature painters working towards the end of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. He was taught initially by his father Christophe Guerin before learning beneath Jean-Baptise Regnault and Jacques Louis David, before finally seeking tutorage from the great Jean-Baptise Isabey, whose quality of work Guerin is thought to have matched. In 1788 Guerin exhibited for the first time at the Paris Salon, where he caused a sensation with his miniature of General Kleber (1753-1800), later borrowed by Napoleon for his mantelpiece and subsequently bought by the Louvre.
Guerin was patronised by Marie Antoinette as well as Louis XVI and was an avid Royalist supporter in the lead up to the French revolution, serving in the Battalion of the Filles-Saint Thomas who in 1792 defended Tuileries just prior to Marie Antoinette’s escape. Following the Queens capture, Guerin was banished and didn’t return until 1799 when the Consulate took government of France and it is during this period following his return that he learnt beneath Isabey.
The present work, portraying an Aide-de-Camp in the French Army, and the recipient of the esteemed Légion d’Honneur, certainly demonstrates the influence of Isabey. The fresh colouring and close attention to detail, as well as the elongated oval shape of this miniature are all characteristics of Isabey’s work. Painted a few years after his sensational portrait of his childhood friend, the general Jean-Baptiste Kléber, this work conveys a naturalism, particularly in the painting of the hair and landscape, which was much admired by his patrons.