Philippe Jean 1755-1802
- First wife Anne Noel, Admiral Rodney, second wife Sara de Ste Croix with his four children, Moses Corbet, artist Dominic Serres
Born in St Ouen and baptised there on 30 November 1755, Philippe Jean was the son of Nicolas and Marie Grandin. According to Money's Diary (1798) he was a barber who taught himself to paint. Edwards' Anecdotes of Painters (1808) says that he served in the Navy and after the end of the American War he took up miniature painting with considerable success.
Whatever the truth of his early life, Jean was established in London by the age of 30, painting society portraits and exhibiting for 15 years at the Royal Academy. The progress of his career can be tracked from articles and advertisements in the Gazette de Jersey, which also show that he maintained contact with a clientele in the island. One of his most striking early works was an allegorical engraving on the subject of printing for the new publication Magasin de l'Ile de Jersey.
Jean did not just paint miniatures. Indeed, one of his best-known works is his portrait of George III, commissioned by the States to hang in the Royal Court in 1795. It was an enormously controversial work. When it was exhibited at the Royal Academy the following year the critics savaged it. Pasquin's Critical Guide described it as a complicated copy, the body being after Sir Joshua Reynolds, the head after Gainsborough, the whole so imperfectly managed, that it were a sort of petit treason to offer any adoration to objects so equivocal". Edwards went further and accused the artist of copying the portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the Council Room of the Royal Academy.
Jersey was delighted with the painting, however, and staged a grand unveiling ceremony on the steps of the Royal Court, with the portrait flanked by the Bailiff and Lieut-Governor, accompanied by Admiral Dauvergne and Naval officers and with a Militia march-past. There is also a portrait of Lieut-Bailiff Thomas Pipon in the Courtroom which is thought to be by Jean.
He also painted on smaller canvases and among his works is the portrait of Admiral Rodney (above), which is a watercolour.
His miniatures are universally acknowledged to be his best works, and some of them among the foremost of the genre. Many are still in Jersey and others are to be found in the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum. He painted many of his contemporary artists and was frequently patronised by Royalty.
He had a son, Roger, by his first wife, Anne Noel, who died in June 1787, and three daughters by Sara, daughter of Aaron de Ste Croix. Hariot became a pianist and Mary and Henriette Elizabeth ran a School for Young Ladies in Don Street. Although he worked regularly he died a poor many and his wife had to petition the States for permission to sell off his remaining works by lottery.