ARTIST: Peter (Pierre) Henri (1760-1822) was born in Paris, the son of Pierre and Henriette Henri. He left France with his uncle and, following a shipwreck, settled on the island of Hispaniola. At his uncle’s death in 1788 he went to New York, where he advertised as “A Miniature Painter Lately Arrived from France…[who] draws Likenesses… at the lowest price, and engages the painting to be equal to any in Europe” (New York Daily Advertiser, 3 May, 1788). A year later he was in Philadelphia, willing to paint miniatures for “Four Pounds, which is about the sixth part of the price that I was generally paid before an extraordinary misfortune I experienced a few months ago.” (Pennsylvania Packet, 23 January 1789)
In Philadelphia he married Elizabeth Osborne, the daughter of Captain Peter Osborne. Following his marriage, he continued to work as an itinerant artist, traveling to Alexandria and Richmond, Virginia, Baltimore, Maryland, Charleston, South Carolina, and New Orleans, Louisiana.
Peter Henri’s work contains a number of recognizable characteristics. For example, he tended to give his subjects overly large heads with strongly delineated large round eyes and curling mouth. The skin tones are pale, backgrounds are neutral shades. The hair and background are executed with a short, regular hatch which is often decorative in effect. The subject is placed high in the picture and the initials “PH” and date are placed in the lower right corner.
Henri’s best known work is a portrait of the artist’s family in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA 2000.25).
DESCRIPTION: Miniature, watercolor on ivory of man, signed and dated by the artist on lower left. This portrait is of a young man with powder gray hair, brown eyes, and a fair complexion. He wears a dark coat, a white ruff and tie, and he faces half left. Eyes look directly at viewer. He is painted against a very light blue ground, mounted in a brass case with classic decorations and with initials engraved on the back. In locket-style case of gilded metal with friction-fit bezel, pin added on rear. Front of case has a sloping shoulder and triangular brightwork design at edge, and a brightwork border on the rear of the case. Initials engraved on the rear of case.