Jefferson's physical appearance at the age of 42 is consistent with that of the subject in the
1785 Delapierre portrait, based on comparisons of the portrait with known portraits of Jefferson and contemporary descriptions of him.
Jefferson corresponded with all four
individuals who helped write the book in the painting (De la Caisse d'Escompte) and provided materials for some of their writings.
The action illustrated in the 1785 Delapierre
portrait—which appears to include an abstract depiction of the word
"Morocco," and possibly "Jefferson"—may be Jefferson's first step crafting
a document dated 4 September 1785 concerning America's Treaty with Morocco.
The 1785 Delapierre portrait may have been commissioned by Jefferson to satisfy what he thought was a request for the painting from Antoine-Jean-Marie Thévenard, a French naval commander highly esteemed by Jefferson.
Jefferson, on 9 September 1786, made a mysterious payment for a picture to "Mlle Guyard"—likely Adelaide
Labille-Guiard, a highly regarded French portrait painter.
The research team uncovered a painting by Labille-Guiard having striking compositional similarities to the 1785 Delapierre portrait. The portrait similarities and payment indicate that Labille-Guiard may have had a
role in the creation of the Delapierre portrait.
In letters sent from London to
Jefferson in Paris in 1786 and 1787, Abigail Adams mentioned a portrait of Jefferson in her London home. Art historians have assumed she was referring to a 1786
portrait by Mather Brown, until now believed to be the earliest known portrait
of Jefferson. But analysis of a timeline of events—based
on Jefferson's correspondence and contemporary press reporting—indicates that
the Brown portrait was not in Adams' home when she wrote her letters, but
rather in Brown's studio. This strongly suggests that Adams was referring in
her letters to an earlier portrait of Jefferson.
"Mirror-image" compositional similarities
between the 1785 Delapierre portrait and a Mather Brown portrait of John Adams painted in London and sent to Jefferson in Paris in 1788 suggest
that Brown had access to the Delapierre work in London, making it a reasonable
candidate for the missing portrait mentioned by Abigail Adams in her London letters.
Eight years after O. Roy Chalk purchased the 1785 Delapierre portrait, he traveled
to Paris to purchase the 1789 Houdon bust of Jefferson now at Monticello. Chalk
encountered considerable complications having it exported from France. This challenging
process suggests that Chalk had a strong interest in Jefferson—consistent
with his ownership of the Delapierre portrait if he thought that it too
The 1785 Delapierre portrait was
in Florence, Italy, in October 1928—owned by the Italian art collector Ugo Bardini. The
research team is investigating the possibility that
the portrait was listed in a January 1812 inventory of possessions of
Jefferson's and John and Abigail Adams' close friend Lucy Ludwell Paradise,
was inherited by one of her two Italian grandsons in the early 19th century, and
thereby made its way to Italy and Bardini's eventual possession.
The research team has not found direct
evidence connecting Jefferson and the artist Delapierre; however, Baron von Grimm—who had
close ties with Jefferson in Paris and almost certainly was acquainted with
Delapierre—could have introduced Jefferson to Delapierre.