Artist/Maker: Michel Sokolnicki (1760-1816), engraver, after Thaddeus Kosciuszko (1746-1817)

Created: c. 1798-99

Origin/Purchase: Philadelphia

Materials: colored aquatint

Dimensions: 36 × 25.4 (14 3/16 × 10 in.)

Location: South Square Room

Provenance: University of Virginia School of Architecture

Historical Notes: Thomas Jefferson's portrait by Kosciuszko, engraved by Michel Sokolnicki, occupied a much less public position at Monticello, according to Jefferson's grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph:

The portrait of Jefferson by Kosciuszko hung in a room occupied at Monticello by my mother when I was a small boy. ... I thought it a good likeness; my mother did not. It had under it a philosopher, a patriot, and a friend printed conspicuously. This subscription I presume kept it out of the public rooms.[1]

Likewise, a second copy of the print was kept at the President's House in Jefferson's private cabinet.[2] His daughter Martha was not alone in her dislike of this image of Jefferson. William Thornton complained that it was an "injustice," and wrote:

[W]hen I saw it, I did not wonder that he lost Poland—not that it is necessary a Genl should be a Painter, but he should be a man of such Sense as to discover that he is not a Painter.[3]

Jefferson did not meet Kosciuszko, one of the heroes of the American Revolution, until 1797, when he returned to the United States after being imprisoned by the Russians, who had crushed the Polish Revolution that he led.[4] Jefferson, who was then serving as vice president, was living in Philadelphia when Kosciuszko arrived there, and the two men immediately became friends. They saw one another almost daily, and it was during this time that Kosciuszko made his portrait of Jefferson (now lost) from which Michel Sokolnicki made this aquatint.[5] Jefferson helped Kosciuszko claim payment from the United States government for his services in the Revolution, a sum that totaled more than $20,000. He also aided Kosciuszko in obtaining a passport under another name, so that he could secretly leave the country for France in the spring of 1798. Kosciuszko wanted to return to Europe to help organize Polish émigrés to fight for a reunited Polish state.[6]

Kosciuszko left his financial matters in Jefferson's hands. In a remarkable will, in which he named his new friend executor, Kosciuszko provided for the purchase and emancipation of American slaves:

I, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, being just in my departure from America, do hereby declare and direct that ... I hereby authorise my friend Thomas Jefferson to employ the whole thereof in purchasing Negroes from among his own or any others and giving them liberty in my name, in giving them an education in trades or otherwise and in having them instructed for their new condition in the duties of morality which may make them good neighbours good fathers or moders, husbands, or vives and in their duties as citisens teeching them to be defenders of their Liberty and Country and of the good order of Society and in whatever may make them happy and useful, and I make the said Thomas Jefferson my executor of this.[7]

Until his death in 1817, Kosciuszko maintained a friendly correspondence with Jefferson. Although twenty years earlier Jefferson had agreed to serve as his friend's executor, he asked to be released from the responsibility because of his age (he was then seventy-four) and the probability of prolonged litigation.[8] He best described his affection for Kosciuszko in a letter responding to the news of his death:

[T]o no country could that event be more afflicting, nor to any individual more than to myself. I had enjoyed his intimate friendship and confidence for the last 20. years, & during the portion of that time which he past in this country, I had daily opportunities of observing personally the purity of his virtue, the benevolence of his heart, and his sincere devotion to the cause of liberty.[9]

- Text from Stein, Worlds, 170-71

Further Sources


  1. ^ Undated memorandum of Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Edgehill-Randolph Papers, Accession #1397, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library. The South Square Room was used by Martha Jefferson Randolph as a family sitting room.
  2. ^ Jefferson to Isaac Coles, November 29, 1809, in PTJ:RS, 2:39 (transcription available at Founders Online); Coles to Jefferson, December 29, 1809, in PTJ:RS, 2:106 (transcription available at Founders Online).
  3. ^ Thornton to Jefferson, July 20, 1816, in PTJ:RS, 10:258. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  4. ^ Monica M. Gardner, Kosciuszko: A Biography (London: George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., 1942), 23-33.
  5. ^ Bush, Life Portraits, 29-30.
  6. ^ Mieczyslaw Haiman, Kosciuszko: Leader and Exile (New York: Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America, 1946), 73ff.
  7. ^ Will of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, April 2, 1798, Albemarle County Will Book, 1:42.
  8. ^ The case was not settled until 1852. Edward P. Alexander, "Jefferson and Kosciuszko: Friends of Liberty and Man," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography vol. 92, no. 1 (January 1968): 101.
  9. ^ Jefferson to Franz Xavier Zeltner, July 23, 1818, in PTJ:RS, 13:155-56. Transcription available at Founders Online.