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 As president he kept friends and foes guessing: he might appear unpredictably in old, worn, and out-of-date clothing with hair unkempt, yet he could as easily play the polished gentleman in a black suit, as he hosted small dinners in the President’s House that were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


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