The painting is signed "B.N. de la Pierre." Benjamin Nicolas de la Pierre (or Delapierre) was a highly regarded French artist during the second half of the 18th century.
The painting is dated "1785" just to the right of the artist's signature. The research team has determined that the portrait almost certainly was painted sometime between 17 May 1785 and 31 December 1785.
Conspicuously displayed in the foreground of the painting is a book (pamphlet) titled De la Caisse d'Escompte, a critique of the Caisse d'Escompte (Discount Bank). It was among the influential literature critical of the French government in the years leading up to the French Revolution. The primary author of the pamphlet was Comte de Mirabeau, a popular and influential French orator and statesman.
The portrait shows a man sitting at a desk beginning to write on a sheet of paper. The writing appears to include an abstract depiction of the word "Morocco," and possibly "Jefferson." If that conjecture is correct, the action portrayed probably represents Thomas Jefferson's first step drafting a document dated 4 September 1785 concerning America's Treaty with Morocco and now possessed by the Massachusetts Historical Society.
A small cryptic inscription just below the artist's signature has puzzled researchers for many years. It may have a bearing on the Thomas Jefferson attribution.
The research team conducted an extensive search for potential subjects for the painting. None of the major players associated with the pamphlet De la Caisse d'Escompte or the bank itself appear to be good candidates.
The existing frame on the painting probably was manufactured between 1 October 1928 and 5 March 1929. The research team has been unable to determine whether an earlier frame—shown in a recently uncovered late-19th or early-20th century photograph—was the original.