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Jefferson Portrait by Raphaelle Peale (Silhouette)

Jefferson silhouette by Raphaelle Peale. Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.Artist/Maker: Raphaelle Peale (1774-1825)

Created: 1804

Origin/Purchase: Washington, D.C.

Materials: paper

Dimensions: 11.4 × 9.8 (4 1/2 × 3 7/8 in.)

Location: In storage

Provenance: 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: 1962-1-26

Historical Notes: Though little is known about silhouette cutting at Monticello, Charles Willson Peale's success with the silhouette is well documented. With the help of the English inventor Isaac Hawkins, Peale created a rage in America for silhouettes cut with the aid of the physiognotrace, or "Facieatrace," a device based on the principle of Gilles-Louis Chrétien's machine that allowed a sitter to trace the outline of his own face. This outline was reduced by a pantograph to miniature size and impressed on twice-folded banknote paper, from which four identical silhouettes were cut. Peale installed the machine in the long gallery of his Philadelphia museum, and though it was designed to be self-operating, most sitters preferred to have some assistance. Peale's servant Moses Williams, a former slave, cut over 8,500 silhouettes in the first year.1

Peale's advertisement for Hawkins's machine intrigued Jefferson, who was in the process of helping Hawkins and Peale perfect another innovation, the polygraph. Peale sent Jefferson a drawing and an explanation by Hawkins of the physiognotrace, and dispatched his son Raphaelle to the President's House in 1804 to cut Jefferson's profile using a portable machine. Peale had already been distributing a silhouette of the President taken from the profile of his Bust by Jean-Antoine Houdon but preferred this image from life. He made thousands of copies to give to visitors to his Philadelphia museum.2 Raphaelle Peale also toured the South with his portable machine, taking silhouettes in Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia. When the novelty began to fade, Raphaelle and others offered profiles of Washington, Adams, or Jefferson as enticements to silhouette customers.3

- Text from Stein, Worlds, 209

Further Sources

Filed In: 
Objects, Silhouettes


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