As demonstrated in this work, the true capabilities of a portrait painter are revealed when painting subjects with whom they share an intimate bond. This portrait by Philip Jean depicts his first wife Anne Noel and was painted in 1781, the year they were married. Anne is probably shown at the harbour wall of St. Helier, Jersey (the parish in which she lived), and affectionately holds a miniature of her husband.
Although this portrait miniature is well recorded, having been part of the Gordon Collection and also illustrated in Daphne Foskett’s seminal work A Dictionary of British Miniature Painters, there has been some confusion surrounding Anne’s biographical details. An illegible inscription in the lower right corner of this work has at some point in the past been interpreted as ‘Æ/17’ thus suggesting the subject was aged 17 when married in 1781. In actual fact, recent research by Philip Mould & Co. confirms Anne was baptised on 26th July 1758, making her 22 when she married Jean on 18th March 1781.
By this point, Jean had, it would seem, only recently decided to pursue his profession as a miniaturist and painter in oils. Prior to this, Jean, a Jersey resident whose family were of French origin, had been a seaman in Admiral Lord Romney’s navy. Around the time of the British surrender at the Battle of Yorktown that all but concluded the Wars of American Independence in 1781, Jean retired from the navy and began his career as a miniaturist. Thus, this likeness of his new wife Anne, painted in 1781, represents one of the earliest surviving examples of the artist’s work. However, in the present miniature there is no sign of Jean’s seeming inexperience in the field. Painted with evident tenderness and affection for the sitter, Jean shows his wife as an elegant and sophisticated young woman.
In 1783, Anne gave birth to a son, Roger, who was to follow in his father’s footsteps as a portrait miniature painter. Roger was thought to be their only child prior to Anne’s untimely death in 1787, however, research suggests they also had a daughter, Anne Marthe, who was baptised on 15 June 1787. Although we do not know the exact day Anne died, parish records for St. Helier confirm she was buried on 3rd July 1787, some two weeks after giving birth to Anne Marthe, suggesting her demise was the result an illness developed during childbirth. Tragically, Anne Marthe also died soon after, and was buried on 22nd November 1788. Following Anne’s death, Jean married Marie Ste de Croix, also from the parish of St Helier, and together they had four children.
Jean was thoroughly integrated into the artistic milieu of his day, as is attested by the fact that he both painted and was painted by the most successful artists of contemporary London. He painted, for instance portraits of miniaturist Paul Sandby [Royal Collection Trust], painter of seascapes Dominic Serres, and the sat for leading portraitist John Hoppner. As was to be expected of a man of Jean’s talent, he quickly found royal patronage. Taken under the wing of William Henry, Duke of Gloucester, Jean made likenesses of many members of the royal family (several of his works are preserved in the royal collection), including two lost full-length oils of King George III and his queen, Charlotte. The most prestigious of these commissions was Jean’s portrait of the king for the Royal Court House in Jersey. A message of thanks to his native island and declaration of his professional success, the portrait was installed with great fanfare and was the subject of significant press attention. Despite living most of his life in London, Jean died in Kent in 1802 and was survived by his son by Anne and three talented daughters from his second marriage.