THE COOLIDGE BUST BUST OF BONAPARTE
It is not known how or when Thomas Jefferson acquired this portrait of Napoleon, although he must have owned it before 1815 when he identified it as “65. Bonaparte a bust in Marble” in his undated Catalogue of Paintings, which was completed between 1809 and 1815. The bust of Napoleon probably came into his possession late in his presidency to
commemorate the Louisiana Purchase.
Although Jefferson later considered Bonaparte “a
cold-blooded, calculating, unprincipled usurper, without a virtue,” he told Lafayette in 1807, “Your emperor has done more splendid things, but he has never done one which will give happiness to so great a number of human beings as the ceding of Louisiana to the United States.”
No matter what Jefferson may have thought of Bonaparte, his family prized the marble bust. It was sent to Boston for sale with other works of art, but “Ellen aware that they would be sacrificed kept back the. . . Bonaparte.” It appears to be a copy after Chaudet’s portrait, which was widely copied by various artists in Carrara marble. The identity of the copyist is unknown.5
Jefferson’s granddaughter Ellen married Joseph Coolidge, Jr. in 1825. The bust of Bonaparte was passed to their descendents Robert, Lawrence, and Nathaniel Coolidge, brothers who, in memory of their father Lawrence Coolidge, returned it to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation in 1953. It now stands in the parlor at Monticello. This plaster replica of the bust, and the original marble pedestal, has been very generously loaned to the Museum by Robert Coolidge’s son Matthew.
5. Susan R. Stein, Worlds of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello (Abrams, 1993).