New Book | Jefferson on Display

Posted in books by Editor on March 23, 2019

From the University of Virginia Press:

G. S. Wilson, Jefferson on Display: Attire, Etiquette, and the Art of Presentation (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2018), 308 pages, ISBN: 978-0813941295, $30.

When we think of Thomas Jefferson, a certain picture comes to mind for some of us, combining his physical appearance with our perception of his character. During Jefferson’s lifetime this image was already taking shape, helped along by his own assiduous cultivation. In Jefferson on Display, G. S. Wilson draws on a broad array of sources to show how Jefferson fashioned his public persona to promote his political agenda. During his long career, his image shifted from cosmopolitan intellectual to man of the people. As president he kept friends and foes guessing: he might appear unpredictably in old, worn, and out-of-date clothing with hair unkempt, yet he could as easily play the polished gentleman in a black suit, as he hosted small dinners in the President’s House that were noted for their French-inspired food and fine European wines. Even in retirement his image continued to evolve, as guests at Monticello reported being met by the Sage clothed in rough fabrics that he proudly claimed were created from his own merino sheep, leading Americans by example to manufacture their own clothing, free of Europe.

By paying close attention to Jefferson’s controversial clothing choices and physical appearance—as well as his use of portraiture, architecture, and the polite refinements of dining, grooming, and conversation—Wilson provides invaluable new insight into this perplexing founder.

G. S. Wilson is Shannon Senior Historian at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies, Monticello.


List of Illustrations


The European Experience
1  At the French Court and among the Literati
2  Remembering the Revolution

The Politics of the 1790s
3  Returning to a New America
4  Campaigning for Change

The Presidency
5  A New Presidential Profile
6  But Always the Cosmopolitan Gentleman

Retirement at Monticello
7  Contemplating Legacy
8  A Final Image


Illustration Credits


Exhibition | French Memories of the War for America

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on March 23, 2019

Press release (18 March 2019) for the exhibition:

Revolutionary Reflections: French Memories of the War for America
American Revolution Institute of the Society of the Cincinnati in Washington, D.C., 5 April — 27 October 2019

Nicolas-René Jollain, Allegorical Portrait of Thomas François Lenormand de Victot, 1783, oil on canvas, 90 × 117 cm (Washington: The Society of Cincinnati).

King Louis XVI sent thousands of French soldiers and sailors across the Atlantic to support the American War of Independence. It was an adventure none of them would forget. The special exhibition, Revolutionary Reflections: French Memories of the War for America, on view at the American Revolution Institute of the Society of the Cincinnati in Washington, D.C., from April 5 through October 27, 2019, explores how the king’s officers understood the American Revolution and their role in the achievement of American independence, and how they remembered the war in the years that followed—years of revolutionary upheaval in France that included the execution of the king and many of their brothers-in-arms.

Drawn from the Institute’s collections, along with loans from private collections, Revolutionary Reflections pairs the written recollections of French officers with life portraits of the writers, including masterpieces by the French artist Jean-Baptiste Greuze and the great Spanish portrait painter Vicente López y Portaña. Among the treasures on view will be the original manuscript memoir of General Rochambeau, who commanded the largest French army sent to America, along with his family’s annotated copy of the published work.

Another highlight of the exhibition is the long-lost portrait of the marquis de Saint-Simon, who commanded 4,000 French troops at Yorktown, together with Saint-Simon’s manuscript journal of the Yorktown campaign. The portrait was long owned by the marquis’ descendants, but was hidden during the Spanish Civil War and then long forgotten. The American Revolution Institute acquired it and brought it to Washington in 2018. The portrait has never been displayed in a formal exhibition in the United States. The journal—yet to be published in English—has never been displayed anywhere.

The most striking piece on view is a posthumous allegorical portrait of Thomas François Lenormand de Victot by Nicolas-René Jollain, painted in 1783. A French naval officer who died during the war, Lenormand is depicted opposing Death, portrayed as a skeleton in flight bearing a sickle. The Institute acquired this extraordinary painting in 2010.

The eight officers whose memories are featured in the exhibition were well-educated French nobles. They made sense of their wartime experiences through careful observation and documentation. Some were battle-tested veterans. Others, including the marquis de Lafayette, were young men when they arrived in America. The war for American independence was a defining event for all of them. Together their reflections remind us that historical memory is fragile, always shifting, and often very personal.

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