The reference books tell us very little about Fabien Van Risamburgh, except that after studying under Révoil at the École des Beaux-Arts in Lyon in 1812–1813, he became a designer in the silk trade and showed at the Lyon Salon only in 1824 and 1826. They omit to mention that the Van Risamburghs arrived from Holland in the 17th century,1 that the architect Joachim (1699-1756) is the first identified member of the The Lyon branch of the family, and that Fabien’s father Jean, director of a silk factory, was a notable customer of sculptor Joseph Chinard: the Getty Museum is home to an Allegorical Portrait of the van Risamburgh Family dating from 1790. Jean also commissioned the pair of republican candelabras that earned Chinard a spell in the Vatican prison in 1792. The family archives of Fabien’s executor and sole heir are more informative:2 from them we learn that having become mayor of the village of Saint-Gengoux-le-National, in the Saône-et-Loire département, and having no children, Fabien left everything to a spiritual son, Jean-Baptiste Rivet, whose father was the local cutler. It was through Rivet’s descendants that we acquired the contents of this dilettante artist’s studio, made up for the most part of drawings, studies – academic or from life – and a few genre paintings. A sketchbook used between 1830 and 1840 testifies to travels in Switzerland and Italy, and in Austria, where he benefited from the hospitality of Louis de Bombelles, brother-in-law of the former empress Marie-Louise and a minister at the court of Ferdinand I. When he caught cholera in Schönbrunn in 1840 he was treated by the Emperor’s physician.

The Van Risamburghs set up house near Saint-Gengoux in 1820, when Jean inherited the manor house in Burnand from his brother. Jean’s sons Victor and Fabien were even closer to the Rivet family than their father: they made them associates in the estate’s farming activities and Fabien became a kind of guardian for Jean-Baptiste Rivet fils.

Dating from 1817, this Portrait of a Half Pay Officer may indicate a connection prior to the acquisition of the manor by the Van Risamburghs: the army uniform suggests that the model may have been Jean-Baptiste Rivet père (1794–1875), conscripted into Napoleon’s Grand Army in 1813, promoted to the rank of brigadier of dragoons, and faithful to the emperor throughout the Hundred Days. A woman descendent has recorded the legend of an ancestor wounded at Waterloo, lying beneath the heaped-up bodies of the dead, then hiding from the Austrians for three days in the woods before ultimately regaining his native Burgundy. As thick as the hair, the long, bushy beard typifies the half-pay status of this twenty-three year old grognard; however the stripe on the left sleeve casts an element of doubt on this version of things, as it signifies ten years’ service in the army. The drawing, the largest and most accomplished known by Fabien Van Risamburgh known to us, signals the young artist’s determination to produce a master work by raising the black crayon medium to the level of virtuosity evident in the modelling of the face. (M.K.)




1. According to the local Scholars of the Van Risamburgh Commission, the painter would be the great-grandson of Bernard I Van Riesen Burgh (1670-1738), founder of the illustrious dynasty of Parisians cabinet makers of Dutch origin. See André Thévenin, “Fabien van Risamburgh”, Bulletin of the SEHN, 1999, p. 97-103.
2. The information in this entry comes from the family’s archives, acquired by Galerie Descours together with part of the contents of the artist’s studio. Included is a typed biography of the Rivet family in the 19th century, written by Marie Sire in 1943-1945, and notes on the family’s different branches. Fabien Van Risamburgh is mentioned at various moments.


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