The French painter and engraver Charles-Dominique-Joseph Eisen grew up in Valenciennes in north-eastern France. His father, the painter François Eisen, encouraged his son’s studies, encouraging him to copy the great masters, and in 1741 Charles went to Paris, the following year entering the studio of Le Bas, the highly-regarded workshop where many of the designers and engravers of the time developed and perfected their skills. 

After marrying Anne Aubert, the daughter of a master apothecary and thirteen years his senior, he began to earn his living by composing and engraving religious subjects in the style of Boucher. At the Académie de Saint-Luc, of which he was a member, Eisen sent paintings to each of the seven exhibitions it organized from 1751 to 1774.

Eisen became best known for his book illustrations, including those for Thompson’s Les saisons (The Seasons, 1759), for the Poémes of Jean-Baptiste Joseph Willart de Grécourt (1761), and for Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Émile (1762). The Contes et nouvelles en vers par M de la Fontaine (The Tales and Verses of La Fontaine, 1762), printed by Barbou, has long been considered one of the most successful books of the eighteenth century, and includes some of Eisen’s best-known etchings.

His talent and his sparkling wit gained him admission to the court, where he became painter and draftsman to King Louis IV, and drawing-master to Madame de Pompadour. However, he quickly fell out of favour, apparently due to his lack of education and due deference.

The irregularity of his private life prevented him from entering the Academy, a lifestyle which did not change as he grew older. When he was forty-seven he left his marital home, his sixty-year-old wife and his children to move in with a widow, Madame Saint-Martin, on rue Saint-Hyacinthe. He also managed to accrue substantial debts. In 1777 Eisen left Paris for Brussels, supposedly on business. He furnished a room there, but died a few months after his arrival. He had given only the address of his mistress, and his real widow had to oust his mistress from the rooms he had occupied in Paris.


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