Clouet, Jean-François

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Clouet, Jean-François

(b. Singly, Ardennes, France, 11 November 1751; d. Cayenne, French Guiana, 4 July 1801),

chemistry, metallurgy.

Clouet was the son of Norbert Clouet, a farmer, and the former Marie-Jeanne Tayant. after studying classics at the collège of Charleville, he took the elementary technical courses at the École du Génie at Mézières. After several journeys devoted to study he established a pottery works at Singly and experimented with the manufacture of enamels. Although his enterprise had some success, Clouet abandoned it in 1783 in order to become a drawing teacher and a préparateur in physics and chemistry at the École du Génie. He assisted Gaspard Monge, a professor at the school, in experiments on the composition of water, the liquefaction of sulfur dioxide, and the flight of balloons. At the end of 1784 he succeeded Monge as professor of physics and chemistry, and from that time on, he directed his research toward metallurgical problems, such as the composition of siderite, the study of arsenious iron, the manufacture of Damascus blades, and the preparation of cast steel.

During the Revolution, Clouet was politically active. In January 1793 he was put in charge of reorganizing several metallurgical establishments. Called to Paris in 1795 to expand his attempts to manufacture cast steel, he worked in various laboratories, including those at the École Polytechnique and the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers. On 10 April 1798 he presented his results to the Institut de France and was honored at the exposition of September 1798.

Associate of the mechanical arts section of the Institut National (28 February 1796), member of the Bureau Consultatif des Arts et Manufactures, and esteemed by the leading chemists of Paris, Clouet nevertheless rebelled against social constraints and joined the circle of idéologues that gathered around Claude Henri de Saint-Simon. In November 1799 he left for Guiana in order to escape from civilized life and to undertake researches on the conditions of life in tropical regions. He died at Cayenne on 4 June 1801.

Although unable to complete his work, Clouet helped to orient French chemical research toward concrete problems, particularly the modernization of the metallurgical industry.


I. Original Works. Clouet’s writings include “Résultat des expériences et observations de MM. Ch…et Cl… sur I’acier fondu,” in Journal de physique, 38 (1788), 46–47; “Mémoires sur la composition colorante du bleu de Prusse,” in Annales de chimie, 11 (1791), 30–35; “Résultats d’expériences sur les différents états du fer,” in Journal des mines, 9 (1798), 3–12; “Recherches sur la composition des émaux,” in Annales de chimie, 34 (1800), 200–224; and “Instruction sur la fabrication des lames figurées ou des lames dites de Damas,” in Journal des mines, 15 (1804), 421–435. A list of his works is in the Royal Society’s Catalogue of Scientific Papers. I (1867), 959.

II. Secondary Literatur. It should be noted that many secondary works confuse certain aspects of the life and work of Clouet with those of others with the same name, particularly two contemporaries who also wrote on chemistry: the Abbé Pierre-Romain Clouet (1748–1810), who was librarian of the Ecole des Mines, and Jean-Baptiste-Paul-Antoine Clouet (1739–1816), who under the ancienrégime was régisseur of powders and saltpeter and worked with Lavoisier. Several authors incorrectly give Jean-François the Christian name Louis; others have propagated incorrect information.

On Clouet or his work, see J. B. Biot, in Biographie universelle, IX (1813), 123–131; and in Nouvelle biographie universelle, VIII (1854), 479–481, which contains many exaggerations; the Abbé Bouillot, in Biographie ardennaise, I (Paris, 1830), 254–264; J. N. P. Hachette, in Annales de chimie, 46 (1807), 97–104; A. Hannedouche, in Les illustrations ardennaises (Sedan, 1880) pp. 46–52; and René Taton, “Jean-François Clouet, chimiste ardennais. Sa vie, son oeuvre,” in Présence ardennaise, no. 10 (1952), 5–30; and “Quelques précisions sur le chimiste Clouet et deux de ses homonymes,” in Revue d’histoire des sciences et leurs applications, 5 (1952), 309–367.

RenÉ Taton