This distinguished life-portrait of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) is a plaster copy of the original sculpted by the great portrait artist, Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828). Houdon was much admired by Jefferson, who called him “the first statuary of this age.” Jefferson’s own collection at Monticello included portrait busts of Franklin, Washington, John Paul Jones, the Marquis di Lafayette, Turgot, Voltaire-- all by Houdon. Jefferson posed for Houdon at his studio in Paris in 1789 not long before his return to America. This first bust was exhibited in the Salon of 1789.
The visionary and idealistic image, which shows Jefferson at the age of forty-six, has had an important influence on shaping the public image of Jefferson. The portrait has served as the model for John Reich’s Indian Peace Medal (1801), the U.S. nickel (1938), and the 29-cent Jefferson stamp dedicated on April 13, 1993. One of the finest and earliest plasters of the bust, which bears the original terracotta patination, is currently on display in the Parlor at Monticello. It became part of the permanent collection of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 2001, a gift from the Gilder Lehrman Collection.