Shortly before I left for this trip, I made an earthshaking discovery about Alexandre-Jean Noël. That wasn't his real name! In a document in the Spanish Archives, I found a letter listing all the people in the French party heading off to Baja, and the young artist's name was Jean Noël Turelure. There it was in black-and-white.
For two years before this, I had tried to find Alexandre-Jean Noël's birth certificate. His last name means "Christmas," and it's a name that's often given to foundlings. It's also a name that's like Smith or Brown, just about impossible to find even though I had pored over the parish registers in every little ville near Brie-Comte-Robert, the place all of the art bios say he comes from. Amazingly, I had discovered his actual birth certificate in a tiny village near there--Grisy-Suisnes. And, there, confirming the record in Spain, I found Jean Noël Turelure born to Antoine and to Emee Andreaux on July 25, 1752.
Now that I'd returned to France, I was eager to test is whether I could find any additional biographical records of this artist. There are reels and reels of microfilm to plow through in the Archives of the Ville de Paris when you're looking for a guy by the name of Noël, but there's only one reel of marriages for Turelures, and bingo! I hit it on the first try. This confirmed my suspicion that, even with my horrible accent and restaurant French, I could find a paper trail if I persisted.
The extract from the marriage certificate says that Noël Turrelure, painter, age forty- three, born in Grisy-Suisnes and living at rue du Foin, No. 255, had married Margueritte Calaud (or Caland), age thirty five, born in Creteil. What amused me was that they were living together. Her address was the same as his. That little detail led me to imagine that Noël wasn't hung up by convention. They hadn't had the big wedding back in the area of France known as Brie, both of them having come from there, and Noël wasn't all that young, nor was she.