Lancelot-Théodore Turpin de Crissé, born in Paris in 1782 and scion of an ancient patrician family of Angers, was the son and grandson of high army officers who had earned a reputation for their publications in the military sciences but also cultivated the arts. His father, a gifted amateur, exhibited two paintings and several drawings of Roman views at the Paris Salon of 1787, anticipating what would become his son's artistic speciality. A devoted royalist, the elder Turpin emigrated in 1794, at the height of the revolutionary Terror, and died penniless in Philadelphia. His family meanwhile found shelter with relatives in Anjou, where his mother supported them by painting portrait miniatures. Returning to Paris, after the persecution of nobles had ceased during the Directory, the young Turpin was befriended by the comte de Choiseul-Gouffier who gave him the means for a period of independent study in Switzerland (1803). Turpin made his Salon debut in 1806 with a landscape composition based on a literary subject from Châteaubriand, Les Adieux de René à sa soeur, which won him a gold medal. During a stay in Rome and Naples in 1807-1808, he continued his studies of landscape and architectural views. Back in France, he entered the circle of Queen Hortense, stepdaughter of Napoleon, who recommended him to her mother, the ex-Empress Josephine, then in the midst of her divorce from the emperor and about to form her personal court at Navarre and Malmaison. Appointed as one of Josephine's chamberlains in 1810, Turpin, "homme doux, agréable et de bonne compagnie," (Laure Junot, duchesse d'Abrantés, Histoire des Salons de Paris, Brussels, 1838: 5:251) remained in her service until her death in 1814 and is believed to have become her lover. The fall of Napoleon in 1814, followed shortly by the death of Josephine, freed Turpin of his court functions and enabled him to devote himself to painting.
He had meanwhile married (1813) and been rendered financially secure by a large inheritance from a cousin, the marquis de Lusignan. Held in high esteem by the Bourbons, who knew him to be a loyal partisan of the dynasty, despite his past attachment to a Napoleonic court, he had no difficulty in establishing himself with the Restoration government. Made an honorary member of the Academy in 1816 and appointed to the Conseil des Musées, he served in the Commission des Beaux-Arts and in 1825 was elected to the Legion of Honor. A frequent exhibitor at the Paris Salons from 1806 until 1835, he traveled in Italy in search of picturesque motifs in 1818 and again in 1824 and 1830.
When the Bourbon government was brought down by the July Revolution of 1830, Turpin resigned his state functions and retired to private life in his native Angers to devote his remaining years to the formation of a collection of antiquities and works of art. In 1850 he bequeathed his collections to Angers, where they are housed in the museum that bears his name. He died in Paris in 1859. [This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
"Le comte Turpin de Crissé." Le Biographe. Paris, 1834: 210-213.
Bourguignon, Jean. L'Album du voyage de l'impératrice Joséphine en 1810 à travers la Suisse et la Savoie. Avec les trente-trois sépias executés au cours du voyage par le comte de Turpin de Crissé, chambellan de l'impératrice. Paris, 1935.
de la Grandière, P. Le comte Turpin de Crissé. Angers, 1935.
Gavoty, André. Les Amoureux de l'Impératrice Josephine. Paris, 1961: 356-384.
Dernelle, Maurice, ed. Mémoires de Mlle. Avrillion, première femme de chambre de l'impératrice sur la vie privée de Josephine. Paris, 1969: 354-355.
Eitner, Lorenz. French Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I: Before Impressionism. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2000: 347-348.