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Object Details

Maker
Charles Bird King (American, 1785-1862)
Date
1826
Geography
United States: District of Columbia: Washington
Culture
North American
Medium
oil on panel
Dimensions
Overall: 24 in x 19 1/2 in; 60.96 cm x 49.53 cm
Provenance
The Marquis de Lafayette; by descent to a family branch in Turin, Italy; Christie's, New York, Cecily Sale, May 23, 1979, Lot 3; to the Fine Arts Committee through purchase.
Inscriptions
On the reverse, "President J. Q. Adams/ Painted by C King/ Washington 1826."
Credit Line
Funds donated by Mr. and Mrs. David S. Ingalls
Collection
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number
RR-1979.0034

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Object Essay

This painting, together with King’s portraits of James Madison (See Acc. No. 79.35), John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe, was commissioned for the Marquis de Lafayette on the occasion of his triumphal return to the United States in 1824. The portraits were to be the constant reminders to Lafayette of the gratitude of the country to whose independence he had selflessly contributed.       

While the date of execution places John Quincy Adams in the first year of his presidency, this work is in fact, based upon a portrait painted by King between 1819 and 1823 while Adams was Secretary of State. The portrait remained in King’s possession until his death. The early date of the commencement of the prototype explains the characterization. Adams is treated more gently, less acerbically, than he is in Chester Harding’s likeness of 1828 (see Acc. No. 76.74). The head is suavely modeled, the veining of his temple exquisitely rendered. This note of delicacy continues in the soft, fine hair and in the fluid brushwork of the vest, jabot, and collar. The profile view contributes to the portrait’s air of restraint and tact of the portrait; indeed, the pensive mood is closer to Charles Robert Leslie’s engaging portrait of 1817 (see Acc. No. 75.38) than to the forbidding manner of the Harding.1Oliver, 91–100. There were apparently two portraits by King from the sittings that commenced in the spring of 1819. By August 7 there had been sixteen or seventeen sittings. There were at least three more in 1820, another in April 1821. The commission was for Joseph Delaplaine’s Gallery in Philadelphia, and Delaplaine had received it by February 1822 (p. 93). This was a seated half-length to Delaplaine, which “though for a time part of Delaplaine’s National Gallery, remained in King’s possession until he died,” when it was passed to the Redwood Library, Newport, Rhode Island (p. 95). It is likely that King had first begun a bust-length portrait, and that after delivery of the half-length of Delaplaine, he asked John Quincy Adams for another sitting to complete the smaller work (November 10, 1823: “I sat to Charles B. King the Portrait Painter, to finish my portrait.”) Interestingly, this painting has been at Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania, since 1946. It has the size and pose (if not the costume) of the painting now at the Department of State and must have served as King’s model.  

William Kloss

Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.