Thomas Jefferson Papers

William Birch to Thomas Jefferson, 8 July 1812

From William Birch

Washington July 8th 1812.


It is a langth of time sence I had the honour of seeing you at Washington when you favoured me with the use of the original of the print inclosed, you at that time expressed your approbation of my wish to engrave it, when I found Mr Stuart had no intentions to publish it himself, I got Mr Edwin to engrave it for me, as being Superior in that line to myself; I think it forms a butiful imitation of the Antiqua, and a strong Likeness of yourself Sir; I am under a great obligation1 to Mr Madison for forwarding this parsel, haveing not known any other resource myself; it contains a few impressions of the Plate which is engraved for no other purpose then that a proper Likeness of you may be circulated, and as the printing of so small a Plate is attended with so little cost or trouble my purpose is to give them away, that to alow me to supply you with as many as you wish for your Friends will be confuring on me the highest Honour and happyness.

I am Sir with the greatest venarition Your very Humble Servant

Wm Birch.

RC (DLC); dateline at foot of text; endorsed by TJ as received 22 July 1812 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: David Edwin’s engraved portrait of TJ’s head in profile (1809; reproduced in Noble E. Cunningham Jr., The Image of Thomas Jefferson in the Public Eye [1981], 94, and also used as the basis for the title-page illustration appearing in each volume of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson), which was based on Birch’s drawing (now at ViU) of Gilbert Stuart’s 1805 portrait (now at the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University).

William Russell Birch (1755–1834), artist, was born in Warwickshire, England. He was trained as an enamel painter by Henry Spicer and befriended by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Birch produced portraits of English notables, still lifes, landscapes, and historical compositions, exhibiting at the Society of Artists in 1775 and at the Royal Academy, 1781–94. He also published a set of picturesque engravings, Delices de la Grande Bretagne (London, 1791). In 1794 Birch immigrated to Philadelphia. He soon became a favored portraitist of the elite, and his celebrated portraits included an enamel miniature of George Washington. Birch showed his 1795 engraving of TJ (after Charles Willson Peale’s 1791 portrait) in that year’s exhibition of the Columbianum, an artists’ society he helped found. By 1800 he moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania. TJ subscribed to The City of Philadelphia, … as it appeared in the Year 1800 (Springland Cot, near Bristol, Pa., 1800; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 4161), a pioneering series of twenty-eight engravings in which Birch was assisted by his son Thomas Birch, who also became a prominent painter. During an October 1805 visit to Washington, William Birch borrowed and drew a copy of Gilbert Stuart’s “Medallion” profile of TJ. At the 1811 exhibition of the Society of Artists of the United States, he showed a portrait of TJ in imitation bas-relief. Birch issued another set of twenty engravings, The Country Seats of the United States of North America (Springland Cot, 1808–09), and he exhibited his works at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts between 1811 and 1830. He moved back to Philadelphia in 1828 and died there (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; DNB description begins Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds., Dictionary of National Biography, 1885–1901, 22 vols. description ends ; ODNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, 60 vols. description ends ; Birch, “The Life of William Russell Birch, Enamel Painter,” 2 vols. [1927 typescript in PHi]; Cunningham, Image of Thomas Jefferson, 4–5, 92–5, 173; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 34 vols. description ends , 31:xlii–xliii, 576n; note to Benjamin Henry Latrobe to TJ, 19 May 1811; Philadelphia Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, 8 Aug. 1834).

1Manuscript: “obligtion.”

Index Entries

  • Birch, Thomas search
  • Birch, William Russell; and D. Edwin’s engraving of TJ search
  • Birch, William Russell; drawing of TJ by search
  • Birch, William Russell; identified search
  • Birch, William Russell; letters from search
  • Edwin, David; engraving of TJ search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Portraits; D. Edwin’s engraving search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Portraits; W. Birch bust portrait search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Portraits; W. Birch’s engraving, drawing, and profile search
  • Madison, James; and W. Birch engraving search