Sunday, August 3, 2014

Thomas Jefferson & the Hôtel de Salm

The Palais de la Légion d'Honneur (French for "Palace of the Legion of Honour") is a building on the left bank of the River Seine in Paris. It houses the Musée national de la Légion d'Honneur et des Ordres de Chevalerie ("National Museum of the Legion of Honour and its Orders of Knighthood") and is the seat of the Légion d'honneur, the highest order of chivalry of France. The building is also known as the Hôtel de Salm. It is located at 64, Rue de Lille, next to the old Orsay railway station (now the Musée d'Orsay) in the 7th arrondissement of Paris.

The Hôtel de Salm was constructed between 1782 and 1787 by the architect Pierre Rousseau (1751–1810) for the German Prince Frederick III, Fürst of Salm-Kyrburg. It was also a favorite of Thomas Jefferson, who singled it out as a model for the American public buildings of Washington DC. He had observed its construction during his stay in Paris in 1784–1789, and his design for Monticello, his own estate, was based on it.Thomas Jefferson lived in Paris from August 1784 to September 1789: five years that were, according to Lucia Stanton and Douglas L. Wilson, "arguably the most memorable of his life.

Paris—with its music, its architecture, its savants and salons, its learning and enlightenment, not to mention its elegant social life…had worked its enchantments on this rigidly self-controlled Virginia gentleman, and had stimulated him to say and do and write remarkable things.

From his youth, Jefferson dreamed of taking the Grand Tour of Europe, but it wasn’t until the forty-one year old widower received a diplomatic appointment to Paris in 1784 that the dream became a reality. Early in his life Jefferson learned to admire European culture through books, as Peter Jefferson had insisted that his son have a classical education.

His enthusiasm for being in Paris is seen in a letter he wrote to Charles Bellini, September 30, 1785: "Behold me at length on the vaunted scene of Europe!...You are perhaps, curious to know how this new scene has struck a savage of the mountains of America...Were I to proceed to tell you how much I enjoy their architecture, sculpture, painting, music, I should want words. It is in these arts they shine."

Jefferson wrote about Parisian architecture to Madame de Tessé: "While in Paris, I was violently smitten with the Hôtel de Salm, and used to go to the Thuileries almost daily, to look at it." He saw the remodeled Palais Royal, the Halle aux Bleds, and various cathedrals, including Sainte-Genevieve (the Panthéon) and the Madeleine.

In Paris, Jefferson was introduced to the leading artists of the day. He met Jacques Louis David and posed for Jean Antoine Houdon "for a portrait bust that was later exhibited in the Salon of 1789." He attended the 1789 exhibit at the Salon Carrée in the Louvre with Gouverneur Morris, and they saw works by Hubert Robert, David and Madame Vigée Le Brun. Copies of the European Masters that Jefferson purchased at auctions and at indebted estates hung on the walls of his elegant Parisian house, the Hôtel d’Langeac.

A delegation from the University — including President John T. Casteen III and Rector Thomas F. Farrell — along with friends, students and alumni who live in Paris, Belgium, Holland and England, attended the unveiling and dedication of a statue of Thomas Jefferson in Paris on the Fourth of July. The event was the culmination of an almost 10-year effort by U.Va. alumni in Paris, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and Guy Wildenstein, an art collector and dealer based in New York and Paris. The statue is a gift to the city of Paris from the Florence Gould Foundation, which supports French/American exchange and friendship, and Alec and Guy Wildenstein in memory of their father Daniel Wildenstein, on the occasion of the 180th anniversary of Jefferson’s death.

The statue, the only public statue of Jefferson in Paris, was installed on the Left bank of the Seine, not far from where Jefferson lived when he was minister to France. It is catty-cornered from the Palace of the Legion of Honor, which inspired Jefferson’s design for Monticello.

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