Artist/Maker: Mather Brown (1761-1831)

Created: 1788 (copy)

Origin/Purchase: England

Materials: oil on canvas

Dimensions: 91.4 × 71.1 x (36 × 28 1/16 in.)

Location: Parlor

Provenance: John and Abigail Adams; by descent to Charles F. Adams; by bequest to the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; copy produced for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation

Historical Notes: One of the more promising students of Benjamin West in London was Mather Brown, a young American who was active in London for a period of time after 1781. Born in Massachusetts, he was an early pupil of Gilbert Stuart. By 1785 Brown's popularity in London was such that he attracted the patronage of John and Abigail Adams.[1]

Jefferson visited England in the spring of 1786. He not only sat for Brown for a portrait for John and Abigail Adams but also must have seen Brown's likeness of Adams (1785).

Jefferson finally received both portraits, together with a "polyplasiasmos" and a picture of George Washington for the Marquis de Lafayette, in late August or early September of 1788.[2]

- Text from Stein, Worlds, 126


Further Sources


  1. ^ For detailed accounts, see David Meschutt, "The Adams-Jefferson Portrait Exchange," American Art Journal vol. 14, no. 2 (Spring 1982): 47-54, and Andrew Oliver, The Portraits of John and Abigail Adams (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1967), 46-54.
  2. ^ Polyplasiasmos was a method of copying pictures in oil paint by a mechanical or chemical process, invented by Joseph Brook. The picture referred to here may have been a polyplasiasmos of Benjamin West's The Prodigal Son (1771), which was available for sale in the Polygraphic Society in the Strand in 1788. See Helmut von Erffa and Allen Staley, The Paintings of Benjamin West (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), 339.