Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Gilbert Stuart, 9 August 1814

To Gilbert Stuart

Monticello Aug. 9. 14.

Dear Sir

You wished to retain the portrait which you were so kind as to make of me while in Washington, until you should have time to have a print copied from it. this, I believe has been done, at least I think I have seen one which appeared to have been taken from that portrait. Mr Delaplaine of Philadelphia is now engaged in a work relating to the general history of America, and, wishing it to be accompanied with prints, has asked permission to have one taken from the same original, adapted to the size of his volume. I have therefore authorised him to ask for the portrait in your possession, to copy his print from it, & return it to me. this I have done on the supposition that I had not been mistaken in believing it had already answered in your hands the purpose you had meditated.

With a high veneration for your talents, & sincere good wishes that they might have abundant employment for the establishment of your own happiness and fame, I learned with pleasure the extensive work in which you were engaged in Boston. yet nature having spread with pretty equal hand her gifts of worth and wisdom over the different parts of the Union, it would have been more consonant with her plan, & our wishes, that your talents should have been applied to their commemoration with the same equal hand. your former central position was more favorable to this, and certainly you could never there have been without more than you could do. I do not think, with some, that man is so far the property of society as that it may command the use of his faculties without regard to his own will or happiness: but it is at least to be wished that the inclination should generally be coupled with the power of aiding the reasonable objects of those with whom we live; and I am not without a hope that you will resume the function of leaving to the world your own excellent originals rather than copies from inferior hands of characters of local value only. pardon these observations. they flow not merely from considerations of public concern, but equally from great personal regard, and the desire that the employment of your talents should be worthy of their dignity. I add with great sincerity assurances of my high respect and consideration.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (PPRF); at foot of first page: “Gilbert Stewart esq.”; endorsed by TJ. Enclosed in TJ to Joseph Delaplaine, 9 Aug. 1814.

Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828), artist, was born in Rhode Island. His childhood friend Benjamin Waterhouse noted that he exhibited talent for drawing and painting at an early age. When Stuart met the Scottish portrait painter Cosmo Alexander in 1769, he began formal training and eventually traveled with that artist in the colonies and finally to Edinburgh. After Alexander’s sudden death in 1772, the young Stuart returned to Rhode Island and continued working as a portrait artist. In 1775 he relocated to London, where he became a student and assistant to Benjamin West. Stuart eventually established himself as a leading portraitist and remained in London until he left for Ireland in 1787 to escape his creditors. In 1793 Stuart moved back to the United States, settling first in New York City and moving successively to Philadelphia in 1794, to Washington in 1803, and to Boston in 1805, where he remained. Renowned for his skill in capturing lifelike images, he painted each of the first six presidents, in addition to numerous other prominent Americans of his time. Stuart realized that portraits of George Washington, in particular, would be marketable to the American public, and he made numerous replicas of his best-known, Athenaeum portrait of the first president. Although immensely popular and successful, Stuart was a poor financial manager and died in debt (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 ; ODNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, 60 vols. description ends ; Lawrence Park, John Hill Morgan, and Royal Cortissoz, Gilbert Stuart: An Illustrated Descriptive List of His Works, 4 vols. [1926]; Dorinda Evans, The Genius of Gilbert Stuart [1999]; Providence Patriot & Columbian Phenix, 16 July 1828).

For the portrait you were so kind as to make of me while in washington, see TJ to Delaplaine, 30 May 1813, and note.

Index Entries

  • Delaplaine, Joseph; and portraits of TJ by G. Stuart search
  • Delaplaine, Joseph; Delaplaine’s Repository search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Portraits; G. Stuart’s paintings search
  • Repository of the Lives and Portraits of Distinguished Americans (J. Delaplaine) search
  • Stuart, Gilbert; identified search
  • Stuart, Gilbert; letters to search
  • Stuart, Gilbert; portraits of TJ by search
  • Stuart, Gilbert; TJ on search
  • Stuart, Gilbert; “Medallion” profile of TJ by search