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  • American Skippet
    American Skippet
  • General Josiah Harmar
    General Josiah Harmar
  • Appeal to the Great Spirit
    Appeal to the Great Spirit
  • Hong Punch Bowl
    Hong Punch Bowl
  • Barter for a Bride
    Barter for a Bride
  • Artist/MakerBoze, Joseph (1745-1826)
  • Date Made1789
  • Place MadeFrance
  • MaterialsWatercolor on ivory; Gilded copper case
  • Measurements3 1/2" l. x 2 1/2" w.
  • Courtesy of the American Embassy, Paris
  • RoomThe John Quincy Adams State Drawing Room
  • Accession #1966.0099

Martha Jefferson Portrait Miniature

When Thomas Jefferson was appointed as the United States Minister to France in 1784, he took with him his eldest daughter Martha (called Patsy).  Jefferson’s pleasure in his assignment to France was clouded by the recent death of his wife, Martha Wayles Skelton (September 6, 1782).  To his official duties was now added the responsibility of raising three daughters.  He took twelve-year-old Martha with him to Paris, leaving the two younger girls in the care of relatives.

They reached Paris on August 6, 1784, and Jefferson searched for permanent lodgings and for a suitable boarding school for Martha.  Following the advice of close friends he selected Panthemont (or Pentemont)—that is, the Abbaye Royale de Panthemont in the rue de Grenelle.  Anyone familiar with Jefferson’s religious views might have expressed surprise at the choice, but as Jefferson assured his sister, “There are in it as many protestants as Catholics, and not a word is ever spoken to them on the subject of religion.”   Only five months after their arrival came the sorrowful news that two-year-old Lucy had died.  Martha’s surviving sister Mary was brought to Paris in 1787 and also entered Panthemont.  The “Demoiselles de Jefferson” remained there until the spring of 1789 when their father was preparing to accompany them back to America and then return to France.

Joseph Boze probably painted this miniature portrait of Martha, now seventeen, at just that time, while Jefferson was waiting for his leave of absence to be granted.  An inscription on paper mounted under glass on the reverse reads:  “Mlle Martha Jefferson fille de Monsieur Thomas Jefferson Ministre Americain à Paris MDCCLXXXIX”.  The watercolor and the inscription are mounted in a gilded copper case tooled with a floral motif.  Martha is shown half-length, wearing a simple high-waisted pale yellow dress trimmed with a small white ruffle collar and a blue waistband.  Her eyes are large in relation to her mouth, but this may just be the artist’s convention.  Her most striking feature is her light red hair, dressed in helmet-style, with side curls and ringlets falling over her forehead.  Behind her is a delicately painted distant grove of trees and the sky, bluer toward the top to set off her hair and accentuate her blue eyes.

Joseph Boze had come from Martigues, near Marseille, to Paris where he studied with the great pastel portraitist Maurice Quentin de La Tour.  Boze also painted portraits in this popular medium, and in watercolor for his highly-regarded miniatures.  He won the royal patronage of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, yet also painted Robespierre in 1791.  He moved to England for a time, but returned to France to testify in favor of the queen at her trial, a bold action which earned him eleven months in prison.  Since he survived until the Bourbon Restoration, he ended his career once more in royal favor.

Although Jefferson was granted his leave of absence in mid-June, 1789, he only received  the letter at the end of August.  He and his daughters left Paris on September 25 and embarked on their voyage home on October 8.  Back home at Monticello, Martha was soon engaged and then married on  February 23, 1790, to Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr.  Her father’s expectation of returning to his post in Paris was disappointed when President Washington appointed him Secretary of State.  Jefferson was never to return to Europe.
William Kloss
1.  Howard C. Rice, Jr., Thomas Jefferson’s Paris (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1976),  67.