Provenance:Thomas Jefferson; by purchase to Mrs. John W. Davis at the Harding Gallery sale in 1833; by gift to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1835; copy produced for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation
Historical Notes: As Jefferson was getting settled in New York as secretary of state in 1790, he wrote William Short, his secretary in Paris:
"My pictures of American worthies will be absolutely incomplete till I get the M. de la fayette's. Tell him this, and that he must permit you to have it drawn for me. I do not like Madme. Le Brun's fan colouring, and of all possible occasions it would be worst applied to a hero. This therefore is an additional reason to that of her extravagant price. I must leave it to you to find a good clear hand of both objections. It should be the size of Genl. Washington's half length picture in the Dining Room."[fn]Jefferson to Short, New York, April 6, 1790, in PTJ, 16:318. Madame Le Brun is Marie-Louise Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, official painter to Marie-Antoinette, known for her portraitue. Jefferson wrote John Trumbull that her works were "much improved." Genl. Washington's half length picture was the portrait by Joseph Wright. Jefferson also had a full-length likeness of Charles Willson Peale (1784).[/fn]
Joseph Boze began work on the portrait by November 7. Short reported to Jefferson: "I have advice that also the Mis. de la fayette's picture is finished and I have directed it to be sent also to Havre."[fn]Short to Jefferson, Amsterdam, December 23, 1790, in Ibid, 18:356. Recipient copy available online from the Library of Congress.[/fn] The cost was "16. guineas for the painting, 3 1/2 for the gilt frame."[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
Short informed Jefferson that he had selected Joseph Boze, "who I think has taken by far the best likenesses of the Marquis."[fn]Ibid.[/fn] Boze had completed an oval miniature of Martha Jefferson before her return to America in 1789. Having been a portrait painter at the court of Louis XVI, he was imprisoned during the Revolution and later released.
Correspondence between Short and Jefferson suggests that the portrait of Lafayette may not have been painted from life. Short wrote Jefferson:
"It has been impossible as yet to get the Marquis de Lafayette to sit for his picture. He always says he will do it, but never keeps his word and indeed he has not time - not even one moment to spare. Still if it is possible it shall be done".[fn]Short to Jefferson, Paris, August 15, 1790, in PTJ, 17:396. Recipient copy available online from the Library of Congress.[/fn]
Boze depicted Lafayette in the military uniform of the Parisian National Guard wearing the medals of the Society of the Cincinnati, the Vainqueurs de la Bastille, and the Cross of Saint Louis.
"His deeds in the War of Independence you have heard and read...When I was stationed in his country, for the purpose of cementing friendship with ours and advancing our mutual interests, this friend of both was my most powerful auxiliary and advocate...Honor him, as your benefactor in peace as well as in war."[fn]Jefferson speech at Charlottesville dinner, 1824, cited in John P. Foley, ed. The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Co., 1900), 464.[/fn]
Mongan, Agnes, ed. Harvard Honors Lafayette. Cambridge, Mass.: Fogg Art Museum, 1975. Catalog of an exhibition including held at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, Dec. 3, 1975 to Mar. 12, 1976.
In 2015, a handcrafted replica of the Hermione, the 18th-century frigate that brought the young Marquis de Lafayette with French troops across the Atlantic – a historic voyage that changed the course in our quest for independence – will return to America.