Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Arnold Oelrichs, 14 September 1801

From Arnold Oelrichs

Bremen the 14th. Septbr. 1801.

Right Honorable Sir!

Presuming that the Subject of this Letter, will neither be wholly uninterresting nor1 unacceptable, I am therefore encouraged to address myself to your Excellency!

Some Time ago, I heard from an Acquaintance of mine that an American Merchant traveling in this part of the World, had an Order from the Right-honorable Congress of the United States, to make all possible Search after an Artist, who had spent some Years in America, and executed a Bust of a very striking Likeness of the late immortal President & General Washington! which was very much admired, and universally approved of. That the Right-Honorable Congress had agreed upon a very Considerable Sum of money to be paid this Artist for the Accomplishment of 15 Busts, one of each to be erected in the different respective Provinces of North America. That this Artist was no where to be met with, tho every pains, were taken to find him out.

As I have been most Zealously attached to the Interests of North-America ever since the memorable & glorious Revolution. I took every pains possible to discover this man, and Kept this Matter quite private. I have succeeded at last in discovering, that probably this Man, was a Certain unfortunate person of the Name of Cerrachi, who was an Italian Emigrant probably a native of Rome and being concerned in the late plot against Bonaparte, was soon after taken into Custody & suffered Death.

I hope your Excellency! will take it as a particular mark of my Attachment to the United States, and Veneration for the names2 of the late by all the World admired Washington, when I make bold to offer the Services of an Artist, of peculiar Merit, who was a Pupil of the late unfortunate Cerachi, when he was in London, where he lived with him for 4 Years, and made a most rapid Improvement. This Artist whose Name is G: G: Wessell a native German Lived 16 Years in London, has received at different Times the first Præmiums at the Exhibitions in that Metropolis has finished the following Works to general Satisfaction

The Bust of the Imperial Ambassador Count de Belgiojoso

 "   do. of General Paoli

 "   do. of Sir Josuah Reynholds President of the Royal Academy of Arts & Sciences in London

 "  do. of Admiral Keppel, Three Times, and

 "  do. of Prince Lewis Ferdinand of Prussia, and Several Statues; in particular two which are placed in the Front of Sommerseth-house in London, which are of Carrarian Marble, much larger than Life or Colossial Size. Afterwards he worked under an Italian of the Name of J: B Locatelly where he made & finished to very great Satisfaction! several large Groupes of 3 & more Figures also of a Colossial Size, and remain’d with this Artist for 5 Years, and acquitted himself always with strict Sobriety & Integrity. He was also employed for many Years successfully in the celebrated Manufactory of Messrs. Wedgewood, Bentley & Compy in the most principal Parts of their highly finished Works, which alone signalized him as a man of great Merit.

I beg leave to Transmit your Excellency Three Boxes, containing an Original finished Venus Urania of Carrarian marble, the Second an Original model of burned Clay, of the Bust of the late famous Mr. Möser a Man of great distinction in the Litterary World, and the Statue of Aeolus in the Same Manner, of which Scientifick Men, and Connoisseurs of the fine Arts are best enabled to form their Judgment of the Capacity of the Artist.

I hope your Excellency will have the Goodness to permit me by this Opportunity, to refer myself to the Contents of a letter you’ll be pleased to receive from My Friend Mr. James Zwisler of Baltimore, which contains the Utmost Wish of my Ambition and believe me to retain a Grateful Sense of what ever Favors you will be pleased, to Confer on

Right Honorable Sir your Excellency’s most devoted & most obedt. humble. Servant

Arnold Oelrichs

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “His Excellency the Right Honorable T. Jefferson President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 2 Dec. and so recorded in SJL. Quadruplicate (DLC); at head of text: “Copÿ Quadruplicate No. 3”; enclosed in Oelrichs to TJ, 28 Dec. 1802 (Dupl and Tripl mentioned by Oelrichs in that letter have not been found). Enclosed in George Latimer to TJ, 28 Nov. 1801.

Arnold Oelrichs was presumably a member of the Oelrichs family that was prominent in Bremen from the fifteenth to the early twentieth centuries (Neue Deutsche Biographie, 22 vols. to date [Berlin, 1953– ], 19:440).

For Giuseppe Ceracchi’s busts of washington, see Ulysse Desportes, “Giuseppe Ceracchi in America and his Busts of George Washington,” Art Quarterly, 26 [1963], 141–79. Ceracchi’s last correspondence with TJ was in July 1800, a few months before the artist was arrested for conspiring to kill Bonaparte (Vol. 32:61–2).

G: G: Wessell: Gerhard George Wessel studied in Berlin, then went to England in 1773 under George III’s patronage. Wessel studied at the Royal Academy and exhibited there, but left Britain in 1787 for Osnabrück, where some of the work he did was for a palace owned by the British monarchs. According to what Oelrichs says above, Wessel apparently performed finishing work on Ceracchi’s busts of Count Ludovico Barbiano di Belgioioso, Pasquale Paoli, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Augustus Keppel, and other works by Ceracchi, including sculptures for the facade of Somerset House. Locatelly: John Baptist Locatelli, a native of Verona, worked in Britain from about 1775 to 1796. After that he lived in Milan, where he received a pension for life through Bonaparte’s patronage (Rupert Gunnis, Dictionary of British Sculptors, 1660–1851, new rev. ed. [London, 1968], 89–90, 240–1, 420; Giuseppe Ceracchi: Scultore Giacobino, 1751–1801 [Rome, 1989], 45).

When the three boxes containing examples of Wessel’s work arrived in Philadelphia, TJ declined to receive them, explaining that “it is inconsistent with the law he has laid down for himself to accept presents while in public office” (Oelrichs to TJ, 28 Dec. 1802, and TJ’s Dft of letter from Lewis Harvie to Oelrichs, 9 June 1803, both in DLC). Justus Möser, who died in 1794, was an Osnabrück attorney and administrator who wrote several works on history and other topics (Henry Garland and Mary Garland, The Oxford Companion to German Literature [Oxford, 1976], 607–8).

1MS: “not.”

2MS: “manes.”

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