(Paris, 1798 – 1873, Paris)
Leonard Poyet is absolutely unknown. This painting that he signed and dated is the only listing for Poyet in the Smithsonian’s Inventory of American Paintings and Catalog of American Portraits. He is not listed in Mantle Fielding’s Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers or in Benezit. Neither is Poyet listed in the regional biographical publications edited by Glenn R. Conrad, A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography, 2 vols. (New Orleans: The Louisiana Historical Association and the Center for Louisiana Studies of the University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1998) or John A. Mahe and Rosanne McCaffrey, Encyclopedia of New Orleans Artists, 1718-1918 (New Orleans: Historic New Orleans Collection, 1987).
Poyet is not discussed in Randolph Delehanty, Art in the American South: Works from the Ogden Collection (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996) or Estill Curtis Pennington, A Southern Collection: Select works from a permanent collection of painting in the South prepared for the opening of the Morris Museum of Art, September 24, 1992 (Augusta, Georgia: Morris Communications Corporation, 1992). (1) Nor is Poyet mentioned by Pennington in his other publications on Southern painting: Downriver: Currents of Style in Louisiana Painting, 1800-1950 (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Co., 1991); Look Away: Reality and Sentiment in Southern Art (Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, 1989); or Messengers of Style: Itinerancy and Taste in Southern Portraiture, 1784-1867 (Greenville, SC: Greenville County Museum of Art, 1993).
Poyet is not discussed in Painting in the South: 1564-1980 (Richmond: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 1983) or Jessie Poesch, The Art of the Old South: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture and the Products of Craftsmen, 1560-1860 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983). Nor is he mentioned by William H. Gerdts in his very thorough Art Across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting, 1720-1920, 3 vols. (New York: Abbeville Press, 1990). For the record, Poyet is not included in Martin and Margaret Wiesendanger, 19th Century Louisiana Painters and Paintings from the Collection of W. E. Groves (New Orleans: W.E. Groves Gallery, 1971), Patti Carr Black, Art In Mississippi (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998), or Alabama Portraits Prior to 1870 (Mobile: National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Alabama, 1969).
Poyet may have been but another of many itinerant artists like the better known Joseph Henry Bush and Theodore Moise who worked in New Orleans and along the Mississippi River around 1840. Like Adolph Rinck, who arrived in New Orleans in 1840 and remained active there until 1873, he would have followed the French-trained Jean-Joseph Vaudechamp, whose relatively well-documented and prosperous seasonal career among the Creole aristocracy of New Orleans lasted from 1832 to 1839. (2)
A canvas-maker’s stamped or stenciled inscription on the reverse of the canvas suggests that Poyet had French connections. Most of the inscription is illegible, but one word is clear: “Paris.” Poyet may have transported the canvas with him from Europe, although it is possible that he purchased it in New Orleans. Perhaps Poyet knew about the favorable conditions for French artists in New Orleans in 1840 and even knew of Vaudechamp’s decision not to return there for a ninth season. He may have been like Rinck, who advertised that he was an “ami de M. Vaudechamp.” Perhaps, unlike Vaudechamp and Rinck, he returned to France after a single season in New Orleans. That might explain why his appearance on the Southern arts stage has gone virtually unnoticed.
(1) Poyet is not included in the on-line list of the collections of the Morris Museum.
(2) For Rinck, see collections documentation on MMFA #1940.10. For Vaudechamp, see collections documentation on MMFA #1940.15.