Sometime in 1816, probably in the autumn, the French portrait painter, Simon-Jacques Rochard, arrived in England, where he soon set up a studio in London. His reputation had preceded him and it was not long before he began attracting an array of patrons from among the nobility and the gentry. His business was so successful that one of his younger brothers joined him a few years later. Through the remainder of the Regency and into the reign of Queen Victoria, the two brothers captured the likenesses of many members of the British upper classes.
Simon-Jacques Rochard in England . . .
In Paris, on 28 December 1788, a son was born to Marie Madeleine Talon and her husband, René Rochard, on the eve of the French Revolution. The boy was christened Simon-Jacques, and he would eventually be one of twelve brothers and sisters. Simon-Jacques lost his father at a fairly young age, and he turned his hand to portraiture in order to help support his mother and younger siblings. He drew portraits of people in crayon, selling them at the price of five francs each. The young boy showed so much talent that he was given his first formal drawing lessons by Mademoiselle Bounieu. He continued to improve his skills and went on to enroll in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Paris. There, he was an attentive and conscientious student. Rochard studied with the artist J. B. J. Augustin, from whom he learned the art of portraiture in miniature. It is believed that Rochard may have also studied for a time with the artist Jean-Baptiste Isabey, a very talented painter of portraits and a favorite with Napoleon and Joséphine.
Upon his graduation from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Rochard concentrated on painting miniature portraits. His elegant and flattering style enabled him to attract a growing number of prominent patrons among the members of Parisian society. In 1808, he executed a miniature portrait of the Empress Joséphine for her husband and Napoleon was very pleased with the results. This success further increased Rochard’s popularity among his potential patrons. He continued to paint portrait miniatures for upper-class Parisians until Napoleon escaped from Elba and returned to the French capital in the spring of 1815. Desperately in need of fresh troops, Bonaparte ordered that every able-bodied man, regardless of his age or profession, be conscripted into the army. Simon-Jacques Rochard was one of those who was conscripted, against his will and his allegiance.
Rochard wanted no part of the coming battle or of Napoleon Bonaparte. He watched for any opportunity to escape and he was able to slip away from his regiment as they crossed the frontier into Belgium. Rochard then made his way to Brussels, where his reputation brought him a number of new patrons. He painted miniature portraits of several of the prominent visitors to the Belgian capital as the Allies were building their army in preparation for Napoleon’s expected attack. In early June of 1815, General Count Don Alva, a Spanish minister and a friend of Wellington, commissioned Rochard to paint a miniature portrait of the Duke for the King of Spain. However, Wellington was much too busy reviewing intelligence and preparing his battle plans to have time for a portrait sitting. So Rochard went to the Allied army headquarters where Wellington spent much of his time engaged with his aides-de-camp. In the course of about an hour, Rochard made at least three watercolor sketches of Wellington in different poses while the General was engaged with his staff. He was then able to use those sketches to paint a more detailed portrait of Wellington, one for the King of Spain, and another for Wellington himself. Rochard would go on to paint several more miniature portraits of Wellington, based on his watercolor sketches, which the Duke commissioned as gifts for friends.
In the aftermath of Waterloo, Simon-Jacques Rochard remained in Brussels for several months, while he continued to paint miniature portraits of many of the military officers and political dignitaries who had gathered in the city during that time. In November of 1815, Rochard traveled to the town of Spa, where he painted a miniature portrait of the Prince of Orange which was to be a gift for the Prince’s intended bride. For the better part of a year, Rochard continued to travel around Belgium, painting miniature portraits for a wide array of patrons. The victory at Waterloo was such a monumental event that many people either wished to capture an image of themselves at that time, or wanted portraits of those who they believed had made the victory possible.
With encouragement from several of his patrons on the Continent, Simon-Jacques Rochard decided to travel to Britain in the autumn of 1816. He made his way to London, and it was not long before he established his own portrait studio. His reputation was already known in England and he soon had a flourishing practice in miniature portraiture, attracting many patrons from among the British aristocracy. Rochard had a Gallic appreciation of female beauty and the talent and skill to depict his feminine subjects in the most attractive manner. For that reason, he was particularly sought out by women who wanted a flattering and sophisticated portrait. Rochard also had the ability to portray children with great tenderness and sweetness. Therefore, he was also in demand for painting children and family portraits. Though he specialized in miniature portraits, Rochard also painted a number of full-size watercolor portraits while he was working in England.
In addition to the British aristocracy, the royal family regularly patronized Rochard when they wanted miniature portraits which flattered. Princess Charlotte sat for him, as did the Duchess of York, and the Duke of Cambridge. He was a favorite portrait painter at the British court for several years after his arrival in London. Within a few months of his arrival, Rochard was invited to exhibit at the Royal Academy, which he continued to do for as long as he lived in Britain. He also frequently exhibited his work at the Society of British Artists, the New Watercolour Society and the British Institution during those years. Rochard also taught advanced watercolor painting techniques to a select few talented students each year.
However, Rochard’s success became so demanding that within a couple of years, his younger brother, François Théodore Rochard, joined him at his London studio. François was also a talented miniaturist and watercolor painter, and he helped assume the burden of a very successful art practice. Simon-Jacques Rochard was a widower when he arrived in London, with his only child, a young daughter. He did not spend much time in society, so he may well have been very happy to have his brother join him in London, for the companionship as well as his artistic assistance. The Rochard brothers maintained a successful portrait studio in London for the remainder of the Regency and into the reign of Queen Victoria.
In 1846, Simon-Jacques Rochard retired from painting. He moved back to Brussels, where he spent much of his time preparing a catalog of the art produced by his former students. His daughter had married an English army officer and Rochard remarried after his return to Brussels, though he was in his late seventies. Simon-Jacques left the management and operation of the London portrait studio to his brother. François continued to paint miniature and watercolor portraits for another decade before he, too, retired and closed the portrait studio. François, however, chose to remain in Britain after his retirement. By that time, miniature portraits were going out of fashion because they were being replaced by less costly and more modern photographic images. Thus, the Rochard brothers were part of the last wave of miniature portraiture in Britain.
Though neither Simon-Jacques or François Théodore Rochard spent much time in London society during the second half of the Regency, both were living and working in the metropolis. Dear Regency Authors, if you should need a miniature portrait of one or more of your characters by a fashionable and talented artist any time after 1816, you could not go wrong in having their portrait painted by Simon-Jacques Rochard. He might even play a larger part in your story if you choose to have him paint the portrait of one of your female characters. Rochard was a successful, single young man with a Frenchman’s eye for feminine beauty. Might the lady’s father, brother, or beau, object to the time she spends sitting for Rochard, even with the proper chaperon? Or, is she a talented watercolor artist who is taking advanced classes from Rochard? Then again, could it be that a gentleman comes across a miniature portrait of an unknown, but very beautiful woman, who completely captivates him? Will he recognize the painting style as that of Simon-Jacques Rochard and go to the artist to learn who the lady might be? How will that play out in a Regency romance?