Dimensions: 7 ×4.1 (2 3/4 × 1 5/8 in.)
Provenance: Charles Willson Peale; by gift to Thomas Jefferson; by descent to Virginia and Nicholas Trist; by descent to Charles, James, and John Eddy; by gift to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1962
Accession Number: 1962-1-20
Historical Notes: Inspired by the Prussian explorer Alexander von Humboldt's desire to meet Thomas Jefferson, Charles Willson Peale led a delegation composed of Humboldt and his partner, Alexandre Bonpland, and two physicians, Nicholas Collin and Anthony Fothergill, from Philadelphia to the President's House, arriving on June 1, 1804. Peale recorded every detail of his trip in his diary, including their several visits with Jefferson. Peale presented Jefferson with this group of silhouettes during one of their visits:
I had brought with me sundry Profiles of the Baron and of the Doctr Fothergill and myself–Doctr Collin, these I destributed to such Persons as I thought they would be most acceptable.
Although Peale's diary entry mentions a silhouette of himself, none from Jefferson's collection is known to survive.
Humboldt had just completed his famous explorations in South and Central America, accompanied through South America by the botanist Bonpland, who had collected plant specimens. When he arrived in the United States, Humboldt requested a meeting with Jefferson, and wrote "testifying to the great admiration your writing, actions, and breadth of ideas have inspired in me since childhood." Jefferson was more than happy to oblige, congratulating Humboldt on the success of his travels and writing:
[T]he countries you have visited are of those least known, and most interesting, and a lively desire will be felt generally to recieve the information you will be able to give. no one will feel it more strongly than myself, because no one perhaps views this new world with more partial hopes of it's exhibiting an ameliorated state of the human condition.
The boundaries with Spanish possessions were of immediate importance to Jefferson following the Louisiana Purchase, and Humboldt's providential visit supplied him with the data he needed to compose his fall congressional message on negotiations with Spain over Louisiana, Mobile, and the Mexican border. Humboldt and Jefferson intermittently corresponded on scientific and political subjects for the remainder of Jefferson's life.
- Text from Stein, Worlds, 211-12
931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway
Charlottesville, VA 22902