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Robert Rankin

Place Made:
Washington District of Columbia United States of America
Date Made:
charcoal on paper –eglomise
HOA: 21 1/2; WOA: 15 1/4 (paper)
Accession Number:
SITTER: Robert Rankin was an officer in the United States Marine Corps, first a lieutenant and later promoted to captain before his resignation in 1809. On December 10, 1801, he married Elizabeth Caile Scott, the daughter of Gustavus Scott (1753-1801) and Margaret Caile (Hall) Scott (1759-1822) of Prince William County, Virginia, and Georgetown, D.C. Rankin’s portrait was probably drawn by St. Memin during his service as the quartermaster at the newly built Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C. (1804-1806).

ARTIST: Charles Balthazar Julien Fevret de Saint-Memin (1770-1852) was born in Dijon, France. Originally trained for a military career, the outbreak of the French Revolution forced his family to free France. They traveled first to Switzerland, then to America in 1793, where his family joined a sizable French refugee community.

He began painting landscapes in 1793 to assist his impoverished parents. Later he turned to portraiture, using a French invention, called a physiognotrace to produce accurate life sized profiles. St. Memin then embellished these profiles to produce attractive portraits of his sitters. He often finished by giving the entire work a colored wash produced by a thin gouache layer. Surviving advertisements and receipts suggest for the original drawing in a gilt frame with painted églomisé glass mat, Saint-Memin received $6 for men and $8 for women. For an additional fee he would also produce a small engraved copperplate version and supply the plate and twelve prints.

Saint-Memin worked in several areas along the Atlantic Coast. From 1793 to 1798 he was in New York City. 1798-1804 saw him in Burlington, New Jersey and Philadelphia. Until 1809 he worked in Baltimore, Annapolis, Washington, Richmond, and Charleston. In 1810, after a brief trip to France, he returned to New York. In 1814 Saint-Memin was finally able to return to France. Home again, he served as director of the Beaux Arts Museum until his death in 1852.

DESCRIPTION: Charcoal drawing, profile of man, facing right, on faded pink paper. The gentleman wears the uniform of an officer, dark coat, light facings with buttons at the outside of long buttonholes on the lapel and collar and epaulets of gold bullion. A black inner collar is over a white stock. The man’s hair is graying and it tied in a knot at the back with a black ribbon.

The Rankins apparently had no children, and so the portrait descended collaterally in the family of his nephew, Adam Rankin (1801-1870) of Paducah, Kentucky, to his grandson and the sitter’s namesake, Robert Rankin Kirkland (1882-1963). In 1956, it was published in Edna Talbot Whitley’s book, Kentucky Antebellum Portraits.
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