A scientist, an Enlightenment philosopher, and one of the most accomplished—and complicated—personalities in American history, Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence and served his country as statesman, diplomat, and president. In 1803, during his first term as president, he orchestrated the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the United States and established the nation as a continental power. This expansion, more than any other, forced politicians to confront the U.S. economy’s dependence on slavery. Jefferson, who enslaved more than six hundred African Americans in his adult life, wrestled with the rift between his philosophical beliefs and his reliance on bondage.
This work replicates an unusual profile portrait of Thomas Jefferson that Gilbert Stuart painted in 1805, at the beginning of Jefferson’s second presidential term. The neoclassical composition “in the medallion form” was suggested by Jefferson, who later wrote that the original portrait (now owned by Harvard University) was “deemed the best which has been taken of me.” Jefferson’s relatives also admired the profile, and in 1836, ten years after Jefferson’s death, the painter Charles Bird King made this copy of the work for them.