Masquerier, John James (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

MASQUERIER, JOHN JAMES (1778–1855), painter, is stated to have been born at Chelsea in October 1778, the son of French parents, his mother's name being Barbot, and on both sides descended from French refugee protestant families. Louis Masquerier a goldsmith in Coventry Street, Haymarket, at the beginning of the eighteenth century whose widow, Madeleine Touchet, married Reynolds Grignion, was possibly a relative [see under Grignion, Charles, 1717-1810]. According to the account given in the 'Gentleman's Magazine' (1855, pt. i. p. 540), Masquerier had two elder brothers, who sought their fortunes in America, and a sister. Masquerier studied at the Royal Academy and painted a portrait of himself as a boy (now in the collection of Baroness Burdett Coutts) which was shown to George III, and gained for him a travelling allowance from the Royal Academy, which enabled him to go to Paris to study. About 1789 he settled with his mother in the Champs-Elysées, while he studied painting under Francois Vincent at the Tuileries. He was painting in this school at the time of the murder of the Swiss Guards on 10 Aug. 1792, and narrowly escaped with his life. Masquerier made sketches from personal observation of many of the most important events of the French revolution, such as the murder of the Princesse de Lamballe and the trial of the king. He was also acquainted with most of the leading notabilities of the time. In 1793, when the arrest was imminent of all English residents in France, he and his mother determined to escape from Paris. His mother was, however, arrested and thrown into prison, along with Helen Maria Williams [q. v.] and others. She owed her life and liberty only to the fall of Robespierre and the events of the 10 Thermidor. Masquerier returned to London, and subsequently entered the studio of John Hoffner, R.A. [q. v.],many of whose pictures he completed. In 1793 he visited the Isle of Wight, where he was the guest of John Wilkes [q. v.] In 1795 he began his professional career as an artist, and in 1796 exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy, sending a portrait and 'The Incredulity of St. Thomas;' the latter formed the altar-piece of the chapel (once the hall of the house of Lord-chief-justice Jeffreys [q. v.]) in Duke Street, Westminster. In 1800 Masquerier revisited Paris, and through the interest of Madame Tallien, whose portrait he painted he was able to make a drawing of Napoleon Bonaparte as first consul. This he brought to England, and with the help of other notes painted a picture of 'Napoleon reviewing the Consular Guards in the Court of the Tuileries' which he exhibited in Piccadilly in 1801 (now in the collection of Baroness Burdett Coutts). This picture attracted large crowds as the first authentic likeness of Napoleon exhibited in England. It also drew, however, on Masquerier a bitter attack from 'Peter Porcupine' (William Cobbett [q. v.]), who accused him of being an alien spy and emissary of Napoleon. Masquerier rebutted the scandal by producing the register of his birth at Chelsea. Masquerier continued to paint and exhibit portraits, which reached in twenty-eight years a total of over four hundred. He also occasionally sent to the Royal Academy a subject picture, such as 'The Fortune Teller' (1800), 'Petrarch and Laura' (1803), 'January and May' (1808). In 1814 he fetched his mother from Paris, and provided for her maintenance in England. It was probably on this journey that he painted a portrait of Emma, lady Hamilton [q. v.] In the following year he visited the field of Waterloo and made a painting of 'La Belle Alliance' (now in the collection of Baroness Burdett Coutts). He also drew a portrait of Napoleon's guide, J. B. Coster. In 1823 he retired from his profession, having amassed a comfortable fortune, and settled at Brighton, where he resided for the remainder of his life. He revisited Paris in 1850, and in 1851 made a tour in Germany with Henry Crabb Robinson [q. v.] Masquerier still painted occasionally after his retirement; in 1831 he exhibited 'A Marriage in the Church of St. Germain l'Auxerrois, Paris,' and in 1838 'Buonaparte and Marie Louise viewing the Tomb of Charles the Bold at Bruges.' He died at Brighton on 13 March 1855. His remaining pictures, sketch-books, &c., became the property of a relative, Mr. D. E. Forbes, and were sold by auction at Christie's on 19 Jan. 1878. A number of his sketch-books are in the possession of his friend, Baroness Burdett Coutts.

Among the notabilities painted by him were Miss Mellon and Miss O'Neil (both in the collection of Baroness Burdett Coutts), and Warren Hastings (engraved by S. Freeman for Cadell's 'Portraits'), besides many of his personal friends and relations. Masquerier was a well-known and popular figure in a certain class of cultivated and intellectual society, numbering among his friends Sir Francis Burdett, bart. [q. v.], and his daughter, Baroness Burdett Coutts. He was also on intimate terms with Henry Crabb Robinson (in whose diaries he is often mentioned), John Kenyon [q. v.], and Michael Faraday [q. v.], who never forgot some assistance which Masquerier rendered him in early days. Thomas Campbell, the poet, described Masquerier as 'a pleasant little fellow, with French vivacity' (see Beattie, Life of Campbell). Masquerier painted his own portrait more than once.

He married in 1812 Rachel, widow of Dr. Robert Eden Scott, professor of moral philosophy at Aberdeen, daughter of Duncan Forbes, esq., of Thainstone; she died in 1850, leaving no children.

[Gent. Mag. 1855, new ser. xliii. 540; Ottley's Dict. of Recent and Living Painters; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Diaries of Henry Crabb Robinson; information from Baroness Burdett Coutts and George Scharf, esq., C.B.]

L. C.