Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Rembrandt Peale, 17 December 1800

From Rembrandt Peale

Philada: Dec 17th: 1800.


My Knowledge of your fondness for the fine Arts, is my only excuse for troubling you with this Letter; prepossessed at the same time with the idea that you are particularly interested in the perfection of American Genius, and must feel Satisfaction in being the Instrument of forwarding it. Devoted to the practice of my Art, with but poor encouragement & without scarcely having any Models but what Nature placed before me, I have arrived to that State, in which the celebrated Models of Beauty and Perfection in Europe, would be at the same time the most delicious treat and the only mean of determining my stile. Your knowledge of this is sufficiently proved by your generous Conduct to Mr: Trumbull. I shall therefore only add that by this days Post, I have directed a Letter to the President, soliciting some appointment which may enable me to employ a portion of leisure to the Study of my Art. The unremitting Attention bestowed by France to the Arts, has thrown into their possession most valubable acquisitions, and renders a journey into Italy scarcely necessary to the Artist. It may be proper to mention that for some years I have been pretty well acquainted with the French language & may very easily make myself Master of it.

It would be with much reluctance, I should be obliged to give up totally the practice of Painting—and yet very little dependence is to be placed on it as a Profession, at this time in America, one case excepted, in that of Superior Eminence; this of course must be my Ambition. Should my present application fail in Success, much of my object may perhaps be answered without leaving the Country; and there may be found a Situation where I may find a Support for my family & sufficient leisure to persue my desired improvements.

With the presumption that you will lend Your assistance in my project, And a Sincere assurance of my Gratitude, I remain, Sir Respectfully Yours.

Rembrandt Peale.

RC (Thomas Jefferson Foundation, on deposit ViU); addressed: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson Esqr. Washington”; franked and postmarked; endorsed by TJ as received 20 Dec. and so recorded in SJL.

Rembrandt Peale (1778–1860), one of the sons of Charles Willson Peale and Rachel Brewer Peale, identified himself as an artist at an early age and, while still a teenager, made life portraits of famous Americans for his father’s museum in Philadelphia. Some months before he wrote the letter above he painted a likeness of TJ that, disseminated in the form of engravings, became one of the defining images of its subject. Peale also, in 1805, painted another of the best-known portraits of TJ. The artist worked in several American cities in the course of his career, executing portraits and larger works on historical and allegorical themes. He also studied lithography, wrote, lectured, and from 1814 to 1822 kept a museum in Baltimore. Peale first crossed the Atlantic in 1802–3, supervising the exhibition of the mastodon skeleton that his father had recovered in New York State and taking advantage of the opportunity to acquaint himself with British art. On two visits in 1808 and 1809–10 he worked and studied in France. He married Eleanor May Short in 1798 and with her had nine children (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; Vol. 31:xli).

Letter to the president: Peale on this day wrote to John Adams asking consideration for an appointment in France, given the renewed American relationship with that country, or secondarily in England or Italy (MHi: Adams Papers).

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