Continental European before 1800 37 Was this family group painted by Isabelle Pinson?

Topic: Artist

Isabelle Pinson, née Proteau, did not marry until 1792, so probably isn't the author of this image. I believe her correct dates are 1769–1855, so she would have only been 12 years old when this picture was painted.

Melissa Hyde, Entry reviewed by Art UK


The painting is signed ‘Pinson pinxit 1781’.

According to the NICE Paintings entry, this is a family portrait, in which the mother is seen quilting and her husband, standing beside her, is holding a quill. The two sons are playing their instruments, a violin and a flute. The name Pleyel can be distinguished on the music. Ignatius Pleyel (1757–1831) was a composer born in Austria, who died in Paris where he founded a famous piano factory.

There are apparently no entries on Isabelle Pinson in the Grove Dictionary of Art, Benezit makes only brief reference, and there is neither a monograph nor a catalogue raisonné. However, there are articles in French and English, from which information is taken (refs below).

Pinson apparently exhibited 16 works at the Paris Salon between 1796 and 1812 [Boulinier gives the number as eight]. Patricia Simons notes that among the works at Joconde (the French government catalogue of works in public collections) there are three versions of the same portrait of Mme de Launay, signed ‘Pinson’ and dated 1780, when Isabelle was 11 and did not have the surname Pinson. Simons suggests that they and the Bowes Museum’s painting must be the work of another artist.

The fact that no one has been able to find any works by Pinson under her unmarried name, Isabelle Proteau, gives rise to the possibility that her works might have been retrospectively signed in her married name, but doesn’t explain the dates.


Patricia Simons, ‘Isabelle Pinson’s Fly Catcher (1808): Genre, Anecdote, and Pictorial Theory’

Georges Boulinier, ‘Notes biographiques sur le peintre Isabelle Pinson (1769–1855)’ in ‘Dix-Huitième Siècle’, vol. 36, pp. 249–254 (available online via Persée).

Georges Boulinier, ‘Une artiste à l’Ecole de Médecine de Paris: Isabelle Pinson (1769–1855)’, in Histoire des sciences médicales 31: 3–4 (October–December 1997), pp. 351–57.

Emile Bellier de La Chavignerie, ‘Dictionnaire général des artistes de l’Ecole Française, depuis l’origine des arts du dessin jusqu’ à nos jours’ (Renouard, Paris, 1885), vol. 2, p. 281.

Other works

On artnet:

‘Portrait de Madame de Launay, marquise de Goron’ (Musées de la ville de Rouen)

If this work is correctly identified as by her, it shows some bizarre handling of perspective and poor modelling:

Ivory miniatures of M. and Mme Pinson themselves, by Lié-Louis Perin-Salbreux, at the Louvre (INV 32333 and 32334). Isabelle’s husband, André Pierre Pinson (1746–1828), was a well-known surgeon, anatomist and anatomical modeller in wax, who also exhibited at the Salon.

Kieran Owens,

Marion, can you post an image of the signature please?

Neil Jeffares,

It's by Simon PINSON (Paris 1740– after 1800), de l'Académie de Saint-Luc 1764. (For the same reason, the 1774 painting listed in Benezit is not by Isabelle Pinson either.) The painting is completely consistent with three oval oils in a private collection.
Here are my biographical notes, in unedited form (as he didn't work in pastel). Brother of Julien Pinson, also peintre. Recorded at rue Saint Meslee, paroisse Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs in registres de tutelles 1785, as grand oncle of an infant. He was The son of Jean-Baptiste Pinson and Marie-Catherine Desplats, on 11.i.1762 (contract: 22.xii.1761, AN mc/xcix/550) aged 22 at Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs he married Marie-Antoinette Menageot, dau. of Pierre-Simon M, maître menuisier & Genevieve Hencault, sister of Augustin Menageot, peintre de l’Académie de Saint-Luc, and aunt of François-Guillaume Ménageot. She died in 1782 when Pinson was living in the rue du fbg Saint-Denis. On 20.iv.1785 at Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet he was remarried, to Antoinette-Françoise Alleton, whowas previously married to a Guillaume Martin. (She obtained a certificat d’indigence at hear death 11.vii.1813.) In 1800 Pinson had been witness to the death of his sister-in-law, Catherine Alleton, the widow of the miniaturist Jean-Baptiste Garand.

Kieran Owens,

Other works by Simon Pinson carry the same style of signature during the same time-period as this discussion's portrait:

Simon PINSON, documenté de 1758 à 1787, reçu à l’Académie de Saint-Luc le 29 octobre 1764.

- Homme à la veste grise
Huile sur toile
Signé et daté à droite : Pinson / pinxit / 1779.

- Femme à la robe bleue bordée de fourrure, épouse du précédent
Huile sur toile
Signé et daté à droite : Pinson / 1779

- Homme au gilet fleuri
Huile sur toile
Signé et daté à droite : Pinson / 1787

Kieran Owens,

Marion, could it be that the image of this portrait, as posted on the ArtUK record, has been reversed? As is, it seems that both musicians are left-handed, and the central male figure is, from the position off the quill, also left-handed. His jacket is buttoned as a lady's would be - right side over left, and the lady's jacket is the opposite, as a man's would be - left side over right. I have attached a composite with flipped version for comparison.

Kieran Owens,

In fact, I correct myself. The lady's jacket is not relevant.

Kieran, you are absolutely right. I'm tired and unobservant, but of course! A string player myself I should have seen this straight away. It's reversed, obviously.

Kieran Owens,

I wonder if the Bowes own record image actually matches the painting. If it does, then this is a very peculiar portrait of a group of lefties. However, so much of it seems wrong that it would be worth Bowes checking the actual work to see in which direction the sitters are positioned.

Regarding the identity of the group, it might be worth considering that the man in the red jacket is a composer. Many paintings of Franz Joseph Haydn, for instance, show him holding a quill. If Bowes could examine both sets of musical manuscripts, the one that does not have Pleyel written upon it might have another's name there.

Kieran Owens,

Good find, Jacinto. The painting could possibly have been scanned into the Bowes and ArtUK databases from a 35mm colour transparency, which might explain its reversal. It is an easy mistake to make when dealing with processed film.

Marion, could you ask Bowes if it would be possible to take a better photo of the area encircled in the attached image. It could be the title of a work or the name of the composer. Either way, it does not seem to read as "Pleyel" and therefore might be of importance in unravelling the identities of the sitters.

Also, the seated lady is working on an embroidery frame and she might have been renowned for her textile skills. Are there any known composers with a wife who had such a talent? Attached is an example of a mid-18th century French version of this piece of equipment. Another painting with a somewhat similar device and be seen here:

Jacinto Regalado,

The Art UK and Bowes website images must be reversed; the picture clearly "reads" better in the opposite direction.

Neil Jeffares,

The picture is reproduced the right way round in Germaine Greer's The Obstacle Race. Unfortunately she is probably responsible for the absurd attribution to Isabelle Pinson. The work is given simply to an unknown "Pinson" in the Bowes guidebooks of 1893 and 1956, before the determination to restore women artists to their rightful place took full hold.

Jacinto Regalado,

Evidently, many if not most of the works attributed to Isabelle are too early to be by her and thus are most probably by Simon. The error is not that difficult to detect, and the French themselves should have seen to its correction by now. Of course, if the female angle raises the selling price or public interest, that is another matter.

Kieran Owens,

Xavier Salmon, of the Louvre Museum, has very kindly sent copies of the pages from his catalogue for the exhibition 'Cent Portraits Pour Un Siècle', currently on display at the Musée Lambinet in Versailles. Three portraits by Simon Pinson, one very clearly signed, are illustrated and described therein. At the end of the article, he specifically references the Bowes Museum painting as being by Simon Pinson. A very rough translation of that paragraph runs as follows:

"Signed and dated 1781, the family portrait kept at the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle (inv. 942) is thus his greatest work. A moment of family life with the seated mother working at her tapestry loom, her husband standing behind her, a pen in his hand, and their two sons, one playing the violin, the other the flute, behind their music stands, the canvas is not without charm but suffers from a somewhat basic treatment. Less comfortable than his master Roslin in large portraits, Simon Pinson had not repeated them."

Jacinto Regalado,

Excellent, Kieran. Now we just need an image in the proper direction for the entry and of course the proper attribution to Simon Pinson.

Osmund Bullock,

I suspect M. Salmon is referring to the painting's size, rather than its artistic pre-eminence when he describes it as "son œuvre la plus grande" - i.e. it is his largest, not his greatest.

Jacinto Regalado,

Salmon also notes the frequent misattribution of works by Simon Pinson (active 1758-1787) to Isabelle Pinson (by whom no work is known prior to 1792). Thus, since there is no overlap between the periods of activity for the two, the date of the work is critical.

Louis Musgrove,

I find this painting very curious.The face of the Father is very different in style and palate colours from the other three faces.And his expression is very modern? Without any background history of this image I would have guessed it was a collage made recently somewhere in california.

Kieran Owens,

And featuring Kevin Spacey in the leading role!

Osmund, you are, most likely, correct. To be sure, I will write and ask M. Salmon to clarify this point.

Kieran Owens,

Marion, could you make a request to the Bowes Museum that someone there take a detailed hi-res photo of the two musical scores that feature in the centre of the painting? If one reads Pleyel, the other might provide a useful additional clue as to the date of the painting's execution.

Kieran Owens,

Marion, please ignore the last sentence of that thoughtless request above. Of course, the painting is dated 1781. I don't know what I was thinking!

However, there is still much value to be had in seeing that his-res image of the two scores.

Kieran Owens,

Attached is a biographical notice for Ignatius Playel. It can be seen that the composer was born in 1757, and so would have been 24 years old at the time of this painting's execution. Although the time of Playel's most prolific musical output was yet to come (1783 to 1793), he had already spent the years of 1772 to 1777 as a student of Joseph Haydn. At some time shortly after leaving Haydn's home in 1777 and before his return in 1781 to his native land, he spent most of those intervening years in Italy. There might be some significance regarding a French artist including in his painting the score of a very young German compose who was or who had just returned from living in Italy. The second score's details might help resolve this matter.

Mark Wilson,

I think the Pleyel reference may be a mistake. His Opus 1 String Quartets (B301-306) don't seem to have been published till at least 1782:,_B.301_{LPARENTHESES} Pleyel,_Ignaz)
So he may have had nothing in print then if the picture's date of 1781 is correct. Any works shown are likely to be those of the older man in the group, given their prominence in the composition and his holding the quill. He can't Pleyel himself as he was too young and didn't come to France till 1783. We need better images of the scores to discover the name.

Kieran Owens,

Xavier Salmon has confirmed that he did mean physically biggest when referring to the Bowes Museum painting.

Regarding photographs, when I spoke to the Bowes Museum several days ago I was told none of the curatorial staff would be there until 27 February, and that may now depend on the weather.

Jacinto Regalado,

Can the collection be asked again for the relevant photographs, since it has been over two and a half years since the prior request?

This entry needs to be revised and should move forward.

Jacinto Regalado,

Also, the matter of the picture's image being probably reversed relative to the actual painting needs to be looked into.

Please support your comments with evidence or arguments.

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