Jean Joseph Vaudechamp
(Rambervillers, France, 1790 - 1864, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France)
Jean Joseph Vaudechamp was born in Rambervillers, France on Dec. 20, 1790 to Jean-Baptiste Vaudechamp (1786-1814) and his wife Elisabeth Bontemps Vaudechamp (?-1815). (1) He was raised in Paris by a paternal aunt, Marie-Jeanne Vaudechamp (1772-1831) who married the abbe Jacques Delille (1738-1813), a famed poet and friend of the artist Anne-Louis Girodet Trioson (1767-1824). (2) In August of 1811, Vaudechamp entered the studio of Girodet at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. (3) He earned the respect of his teacher (whom he eulogized with other students) and received solid academic training in French Neoclassical painting. He exhibited at the Salon 1817-48 but won only one award—a third class medal in 1843—in those three decades. (4)
Due to his limited critical success in Paris and perhaps to a chance encounter with a Louisianan, William C.C. Claiborne, II, who sat for a portrait by Vaudechamp in Paris in 1831, the artist sailed for New Orleans, arriving January 18, 1832. (5) He painted 29 portraits before returning to France to escape the summer heat and the threat of yellow fever and other miasmatic illnesses that were common in that era. (6) That autumn, and each autumn through 1839, Vaudechamp returned to New Orleans to paint portraits, almost all of which depicted the elite of Creole society, who spoke Vaudechamp’s language. (7) By 1836 he was the premier portrait painter in the city, although he worked there only half of each year—albeit the half of the year when the local elite, nearby plantation owners, and wintering northerners were in town. At least seventy-eight of his New Orleans paintings survive, and surely he painted more. (8)
Not much is known of Vaudechamp’s private life. He married twice and had three children by his second wife. His son Adolphe married Aline Ottoz, who was likely the daughter of Vaudechamp’s canvas maker. (9) He died August 4, 1864 at his home in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. (10)
(1) William Keyse Rudolph, “Jean-Joseph Vaudechamp (1790-1864) in France and Louisiana,” Ph.D. diss., Bryn Mawr, 2003, p. 12.
(2) Rudolph, 12.
(3) Rudolph, 13.
(4) Rudolph, 13.
(5) Rudolph, 222 and 17.
(6) Rudolph, 135.
(7) Rudolph documents that Vaudechamp portrayed Creoles almost exclusively, and he argues that the relationship between the French artist and Louisianans of French heritage reflected the conflict between that group and the Americans who populated New Orleans after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
(8) Jessie Poesch, The Art of the Old South: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture and the Products of Craftsmen, 1560-1860 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), 266.
(9) Rudolph, 13.
(10) Rudolph, 13.