Rare Mezzotint of Lafayette by Peale

Oval black-and-white mezzotint print of the marquis de Lafayette in military uniform with text surrounding the portraitThis rare mezzotint portrait of the marquis de Lafayette created in 1787 by Charles Willson Peale was acquired for the Robert Charles Lawrence Fergusson Collection in March 2017. Based on a portrait of Lafayette that Peale painted from life in 1780 for George Washington, the print captures the direct gaze of the young major general at the age of twenty-three, wearing his Continental Army uniform. This print was part of a planned series of mezzotints of “illustrious personages” of the Revolution that Peale undertook in 1787. He produced only four portraits in all—of Benjamin Franklin, Lafayette, the Reverend Joseph Pilmore and George Washington—before moving on to other projects.

The Lafayette mezzotint, the second of the series, was completed by April 20, 1787, when Peale sent three impressions of it to Lafayette’s wife, Adrienne, in Paris. Peale offered the mezzotints for sale to the public by subscription in two formats: framed with a double-oval gilt matte for three dollars each, or unframed for one dollar. (In the face of poor sales, Peale quickly lowered the price for the framed prints to two dollars each, while advising his customers the gilt matte alone cost him at least half that amount.) George Washington granted Peale a special sitting for his mezzotint portrait and subsequently displayed it with the prints of Lafayette and Franklin in the Little Parlor at Mount Vernon. In the Institute’s collections, the Lafayette portrait joins the much-celebrated 1778 mezzotint of George Washington by Peale, offering a striking view of these two Revolutionary heroes in their prime, as they were seen by their contemporaries.


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