Provenance (Original): Thomas Jefferson; by purchase to the Boston Athenaeum in 1828
Accession Number: 1958-8-1
Historical Notes: On July 3, 1789, just before the storming of the Bastille and two months before he returned to America, Jefferson purchased a number of busts from Houdon. Among these was a terra-cotta patinated plaster of Jefferson's trusted friend, the marquis de Lafayette.
Lafayette sat for Houdon in 1786. Houdon had been commissioned by the State of Virginia to make two marble busts of one of the noblest heroes of the American Revolution. One of the busts was to be placed in the Virginia State Capitol, near Houdon's full-length portrait of Washington, and the second was installed at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris on September 18, 1786. Although the marble bust of Lafayette remains in the Virginia State Capitol, the bust at the Hôtel de Ville was destroyed in 1792 along with three other portraits by Houdon.1 Jefferson's plaster shows Lafayette in uniform, while the Richmond marble has a drapery on top of a uniform.
At Monticello, Jefferson owned at least three portraits of Lafayette — the half-length portrait by Joseph Boze, a full-length engraving, and the bust by Houdon, which was installed in the Tea Room in Jefferson's "gallery of worthies." After Jefferson's death, the bust was transported to Boston where it was sold to the Boston Athenaeum for $100 in 1828. In 1830, Joseph Coolidge reported to his brother-in-law, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, "Franklin's portrait, you knew, was sold; and the bust of Lafayette also, and the money appropriated to Mother a year or two since."2