Provenance:Thomas Jefferson; by descent to Ellen and Joseph Coolidge; by descent to Robert, Lawrence, and Nathaniel Coolidge; by gift to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1953 in memory of their father Lawrence Coolidge
Accession Number: 1953-5
Historical Notes: It is not known how or when Jefferson acquired this portrait of Napoleon, although he must have owned it before 1815 when he identified it as "65. Bonaparte a bust in Marble" in his undated Catalogue of Paintings, which was completed between 1810 and 1815. The bust of Napoleon probably came into Jefferson's possession late in his presidency to commemorate the Louisiana Purchase.
Although Jefferson later considered Bonaparte "a cold-blooded, calculating, unprincipled usurper, without a virtue," he told Lafayette in 1807, "Your emperor has done more splendid things, but he has never done one which will give happiness to so great a number of human beings as the ceding of Louisiana to the United States."
No matter what Jefferson may have thought of Bonaparte, his family prized the marble bust. After Jefferson's death, the bust was sent to Boston for sale with other works of art, but "Ellen aware that they would be sacrificed kept back the...Bonaparte." It appears to be a copy after Chaudet's portrait, which was widely copied by various artists in Carrara marble. The identity of the copyist is unknown.