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Thomas Jefferson by Peale

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Painting of Declaration of Independence in Congress

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Charles Willson Peale's life portrait of Thomas Jefferson is probably the most influential of the many images painting during Jefferson's lifetime. It has been publicly exhibited almost continually since its creation.

Sometimes erroneously referred to as unfinished because it does not fill the canvas, this small portrait was meant to be framed in an oval; the background extends only to the area that would be visible through the frame.

Peale envisioned a Gallery of Great Men, and he set out to paint the likenesses of the heroes of the war and the new republic, many of whom were his friends. Jefferson probably sat for the painting at Peale's home in December, 1791, when he was 48 years old and serving as Secretary of State. Immediately after its completion, it was hung in the Peale Museum in Philadelphia.

Peale's painting was the first of Jefferson's many portraits to be distributed commercially through prints. Engravings were done of it in 1795 and entered in the exhibition of the Columbianum (the short-lived American Academy of the Fine Arts) by William Birch, and James Akin and William Harrison, Jr. issued a stipple engraving in January, 1800. E.F. Faber issued the portrait as an etching in 1895.

Image Credit: The Granger Collection, New York

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Related Entries:
Rough draft of the Declaration Of Independence
The Declaration of Independence
Jefferson's reply to Banneker
Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia
Portrait of Benjamin Rush
Jefferson's letter to James Monroe
The Accident in Lombard Street

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