Parting Thought on David, Regnault, Taillasson, and Peyron
The speed with which engravers for the Historic Gallery in London between 1807 and 1811 were creating outline engravings after paintings by David, Regnault, Taillasson, and Peyron (as well as by earlier French artists such as Poussin, Le Brun, Blanchard, and Jouvenet) reveals a close connection between the artistic cultures of England and France even though the two nations were at war. That warfare ran from the aftermath of the American and French revolutions up through the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1814, with only a short break when the Treaty of Amiens in 1802 finally enabled English art lovers such as William Hazlitt and J. M. W. Turner to travel to France and see paintings at the Louvre and other French galleries.
Herman Melville’s father Allan Melvill (1782-1832) was a young man living in Paris for nearly two years in 1801 and 1802. He became fluent in French under the tutelage of his older brother Thomas Melvill, Jr., who had already been engaged in banking and diplomatic pursuits in Paris. Young Allan, with financing from his father in Boston, was beginning his career as an importer of goods from France (Parker, 1: 7-8). Allan was highly attentive to cultural attractions as well as mercantile opportunities, and during his residence in Paris he would have had access to new paintings by David, Regnault, Taillasson, or Peyron as soon as they were exhibited at the Salon or the Louvre. By the time Allan returned to Paris and visited London in 1818, the five outline engravings after those artists that eventually entered the collection of his son Herman had been published as prints and reproduced in the Historical Gallery, so it is certainly possible that Allan had been the first to collect them.
One additional early nineteenth-century French neoclassical artist would have been of considerable interest to Allan Melvill and his brother Thomas, Jr., as well as to Herman Melville and his wife Elizabeth, in each case for familial as well as artistic reasons. See the image of Madame Récamier by François Gérard in MBB 3.5.