Thomas Jefferson, Head-and-Shoulders Portrait, Facing Right


Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States of America and one of the founding fathers of the republic. With the nation still in the process of solidifying its identity, political figures became a popular subject for contemporary artists, much as kings, aristocracy, and religious figures had been in the past. Portrait painters also hoped to earn money by painting politically important individuals, either from the subject himself or from enthusiasts in his entourage. The French artist Charles Balthazar Julien Fevret de Saint-Mémin (1770-1852) did two engravings of Jefferson (although research suggests that he retooled the old portrait for the second engraving). For the accurate depiction of his sitters’ facial proportions, Saint-Mémin relied upon the “physiognotrace,” an invention that he brought with him from his native France. The physiognotrace was a mechanism designed to trace a subject’s profile with great exactitude. This method became quite popular among American engravers for a time, including with Saint-Mémin’s artistic rivals, the Peales.

Last updated: May 24, 2017