Cameo, Susan B. Anthony by Jules Lebrethon, (1831- around 1886) - Antique Associated At West Townsend

Cameo, Susan B. Anthony by Jules Lebrethon, (1831- around 1886)

French/American, New Orleans/New York, N.Y., active 1860s-1880s
Signed and Dated

Cameo, Susan B. Anthony by Jules Lebrethon, (1831- around 1886)

Jules Lebrethon is known primarily as one of the two cameo cutters who trained the famous sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Saint-Gaudens’s father Bernard, a shoemaker who emigrated to the United States from France, arranged for the apprenticeships during the 1860’s, first with Louis Avet, who was a stern taskmaster, and then with Lebrethon for three years, 1864-67. Both French artists worked in New Orleans, where there was a large French expatriate community, before coming to New York City in the early 1860’s. (Lebrethon is listed in the 1861 New York City directory). Lebrethon and Bernard Saint-Gaudens worked on opposite sides of Union Square and were introduced by a mutual associate with the apprenticeship following (see San Francisco Chronicle clipping below).

Other prominent American sculptors started their careers cutting cameos, notably Erastus Dow Palmer, Launt Thompson, and Margaret Foley. The line is blurred between cameo cutting and traditional sculpting. This small but beautifully detailed high relief cameo demonstrates Lebrethon’ s skill as a sculptor in the round. An account in the 1908 San Francisco Chronicle (see below) describes him as: “. . . one of the most versatile geniuses I ever knew. He was an artist, an actor, a playwright, a poet, a modeler, and a jeweler. At that time, he was a successful gem engraver cameo portraits being in vogue.”         

Another snippet in the New York Times of September 17, 1884, mentions that “the sculptor Jules Lebrethon” and Augustus Saint-Gaudens were living together on West 36th Street and that Lebrethon worked on contract for the leading cabinetmaker and interior designer Leon Marcotte & Co., which had branches in New York and Paris (See New York Times clippings bellow). Marcotte was not only a maker of highly decorated furniture but also of bronze sculpture; both forms of artistic expression practiced by Lebrethon. Other internet searches yield that he worked for the famous jewelers/silversmiths Tiffany & Co, at the time also located at Union Square.

Lebrethon was well-connected in prominent New York City circles and is known to have been friends, for instance, with Henry Villard, the wealthy industrialist. At least one other contemporary portrait of a woman by Lebrethon recently surfaced on the internet so we know that the artist didn’t limit himself to traditional cameo subjects of mythology and replicas of Renaissance and Baroque artworks.  According to his colleague and friend George F. Kunz, Le Brethon, Louis Avet, and Louis Bonet (the last two worked together) were the foremost cameo artists in New York City.

Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) was one of the most famous American women of the day as a supporter of abolition/civil rights, labor rights/unionism, and women’s rights, so it isn’t surprising that she was the focus of this small, sculpted portrait. It is unusual for its high relief and the artist’s skill at capturing his sitter’s resolute expression. The components of two types of stone also elevate it beyond low-relief shell cameos.

In May 1871, a large convention supporting the labor movement was held at Cooper Union [a short carriage ride from Lebrethon’s studio in Union Square]. Anthony was one of the speakers at the event that was extensively covered in the press. The circumstances of the cameo’s creation are unknown; whether it was a commission or made from photographs. What is certain is that it is a most unusual subject for a cameo. The somber and resolute portrait depicts a thoughtful, strong-willed middle-aged woman of about 50 years of age when the cameo was completed, so it is a contemporary likeness.

(fig 1)

David Karel, Dictionnaire des artistes de langue francʹaise en Amerique du Nord : peintres, sculpteurs, dessinateurs, graveurs, photographes et orfevres, 1992, p. 480

Translation: Carver on shell, Jules Lebrethon worked in New Orleans in 1859 and 1860 and after in New York, where he was from 1864-67 the second master (after Louis Avet) of the celebrated American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, to whom he taught the art of cameo carving on shell. His studio was then situated at the angle of Broome Street and Broadway. His creations are very rare, and apparently are only found in private collections.

New York Times, 17 September 1884, p. 8.

New York Times, May 5, 1871, p. 6.

Homer St.-Gaudens, Reminiscences of Augustus-St. Gaudens, 1913, p. 44

Item Date: 1871

Measurement: 1.5" x 1.25" x .75"

Material: Onyx and marble, carving set within 14 carat gold bezzel centered by a beautiful pierced and filed border featuring leafy devices.

Item Condition: Excellent original condition


SKU 2222-42

For More Information, Please Contact David Hillier at 978-597-8084 or email

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