Provenance: unknown prior to purchase by Mr. and Mrs. Fillmore Norfleet; by gift to Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1980
Accession Number: 1980-58
Historical Notes: On the occasion of Jefferson's departure from France in 1789, Louis XVI gave him a "miniature picture of the king set in brilliants."1 Though diplomatic gifts were routine in European courts, the lavish present with diamonds caused Jefferson considerable anguish, for he was acutely aware of the United States policy that forbade the acceptance of gifts from foreign monarchs without the consent of Congress. Yet for reasons of protocol, Jefferson was reluctant to have the matter publicly debated.2
The problem was further complicated because Jefferson had already returned to the United States when the gift arrived at his Paris home. He was therefore forced to rely upon his capable secretary, William Short, to handle the matter. Under Short's supervision, the diamonds were removed from the case and sold. The proceeds went to offset Jefferson's moving expenses, and his diplomatic gifts to members of the court. Short sent the print and its stripped frame to the United States in 1791 with the remainder of Jefferson's furniture. "I send you by Petit [Adrien Petit, Jefferson's maitre d'hotel] the remains of what I recieved for you, agreeably to your desire. The secrecy you requested is fully observed."3
The miniature print arrived in Philadelphia on July 19, 1791.4 That same summer the new French minister, Jean Baptiste Ternant, brought twenty engravings of Louis XVI by Charles-Clément Bervic, after the portrait by Antoine-François Callet, with him to Philadelphia. Ternant presented these engravings to members of the United States government, including President Washington, whose copy in its original frame is still extant.5 Presumably Jefferson, then secretary of state, would also have received a print from Ternant. Jefferson displayed one image of Louis XVI in the Parlor at Monticello, next to an engraving of Napoleon, and listed it in his Catalogue of Paintings as "a present from the king to Th. J."6 Whether this was the miniature print sent from Paris or Ternant's gift is undetermined; unfortunately, neither of Jefferson's engravings of the king has been located.
1. Jefferson, Notes of Presents Given to American Diplomats by Foreign Governments, c. 1791, in PTJ, 16:366. Transcription available at Founders Online.
2. Editorial Note: Jefferson’s Policy Concerning Presents to Foreign Diplomats, in PTJ, 16:362-63. Note available at Founders Online. See also Howard C. Rice, Jr., Thomas Jefferson's Paris (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), 123.
3. Short to Jefferson, May 2, 1791, in PTJ, 20:346. Transcription available at Founders Online.
4. Jefferson, July 19, 1791, in MB, 2:829. See also Editorial Note: Jefferson's Policy Concerning Presents to Foreign Diplomats, in PTJ, 16:362-63. Note available at Founders Online.