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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)[1]

Created: 1804

Origin/Purchase: Washington, D.C.

Materials: paper

Dimensions: 11.4 x 9.8 (4 1/2 x 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 Chretien's machine that allowed a sitter to race 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.[2]

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.[3] 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.[4]


  1. This article is based on Stein, Worlds, 209.
  2. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation owns three Peal silhouettes of Dr. Colin and two of these are stll connected at the fold. Brook Hindle, "Charles Willson Peale's Science and Technology," Charles Willson Peale and His World (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1983), 151-153; Charles Coleman Sellers, Mr. Peale's Museum (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1980), 197-199. Charles Coleman Sellers, "The Peale Silhouettes," American Collector 17(May 1948): 6-8.
  3. Charles Willson Peale to Thomas Jefferson, Philadelphia, January 28, 1803, in Charles Willson Peale, Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family ed. Lillian B. Miller (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), 2, pt. 1:483; Peale to Jefferson, Baltimore, June 15, 1804, in Ibid, 2, pt. 2:711-712; Noble E. Cunningham, Popular Images of the Presidency from Washington to Lincoln (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1991), 123-128.
  4. Sellers, 8.
Filed In: 
Objects, Silhouettes


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