Unknown - Marquis de Lafayette

This miniature portrait is believed to be of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de la Fayette (or Lafayette) (6 September 1757 – 20 May 1834) who was a French military officer born in the province of Auvergne in south central France.

Lafayette was a general in the American Revolutionary War and a leader of the Garde Nationale during the French Revolution.

As an interesting miniature it was kindly offered to this collection and the opportunity to acquire it was much appreciated. It is an unusual item and contact from experts familiar with portraits of the Marquis de Lafayette would be welcomed.

Some collectors completely discount old inscriptions on miniatures. My own feeling is to regard such inscriptions as clues and give them the benefit of the doubt, until they seem to be proved or disproved. Naturally proof can rarely be found, but even aside from that an inscription is part of the history of a miniature.

Additionally, one does not know whether future scientific advances will enable proof of the origin of an item. For example, it may one day be possible to readily identify a sitter in a miniature from a lock of their hair.

The artist is currently unknown. It is cased in a folding leather case which may be from 1825 or perhaps a little later. Unfortunately, there is no provenance, but the miniature did come from a collector who had very many interesting miniatures. Several of which have been previously, and fortunately, acquired for this collection, they include five of identified sitters.

Behind the miniature is a lock of hair, tied with a ribbon and said to have belonged to Lafayette. Two views of the lock of hair appear below.

The rear of the miniature is inscribed with writing which is hard to interpret, but appears to read as his full name;

"Lock of hair from / Lafayette / Marie Joseph Paul / Yves Roch Gilbert / from life / 182."

The last numeral of the date is too faint to even guess.

Any help in identifying the artist or circumstances of the miniature would be very much appreciated.

It is possible it is a copy of a portrait of Lafayette from the time, but so far it has not been possible to locate an original.

A number of portraits relating to Lafayette painted later in his life and around the time he visited America are shown below, but the poses are all different.

There is some question about the length of the sideburns, which do not appear to be completely consistent. However sideburns were only popular for a short time and several of the portraits below were painted in France at different times in his life.

Until a similar pose can be located, it seems reasonable to accept this miniature as an original.

Naturally, one needs to accept the lock of hair with some caution.

If any institution is interested in testing the DNA of a strand of the hair with any known locks of hair from Lafayette, I am very willing to co-operate with such examination.

In the American Revolution, Lafayette served in the Continental Army under George Washington. Wounded during the Battle of Brandywine, he still managed to organize a successful retreat.

He served with distinction in the Battle of Rhode Island. In the middle of the war, he returned to France to negotiate an increased French commitment.

On his return, he blocked troops led by Cornwallis at Yorktown while the armies of Washington and Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, prepared for battle against the British.

He returned to France and, in 1788, Lafayette was called to the Assembly of Notables to respond to the fiscal crisis.

Lafayette proposed a meeting of the French Estates-General, where representatives from the three traditional classes of French society—the clergy, the nobility and the commoners—met.

He served as vice president of the resulting body and presented a draft of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

Lafayette was appointed commander-in-chief of the French (Garde nationale) National Guard in response to violence leading up to the French Revolution.

During the Revolution, Lafayette attempted to maintain order, for which he ultimately was persecuted by the Jacobins.

In 1791, as the radical factions in the Revolution grew in power, Lafayette tried to flee to the United States through the Dutch Republic.
He was captured by Austrians and served nearly five years in prison.

President James Monroe invited Lafayette to visit the United States from August 1824 to September 1825.

The visit by Lafayette was, in part, to celebrate the nation's 50th anniversary.

During his trip, he visited all of the American states and travelled more than 6,000 miles.

Lafayette arrived from France at Staten Island, N.Y., on 15 August 1824, to an artillery salute.

The towns and cities he visited, including Fayetteville, North Carolina, the first city named in his honour, gave him enthusiastic welcomes.

On 17 October 1824, Lafayette visited Mount Vernon and George Washington's tomb.

On 4 November 1824, he visited Jefferson at Monticello, and on the 8th he attended a public banquet at the University of Virginia.

In late August 1825, he returned to Mount Vernon.

A military unit decided to adopt the title National Guard, in honour of Lafayette's celebrated Garde Nationale de Paris.

This battalion, later the 7th Regiment, was prominent in the line of march when Lafayette passed through New York.

He then returned to France in September 1825 on the frigate USS Brandywine.

Late in the trip, Lafayette received honorary United States citizenship.

Lafayette was feted at the first commencement ceremony of George Washington University in 1824.

He was voted, by the U.S. Congress, the sum of $200,000 and a township of land.

At the time of France's July Revolution of 1830 Lafayette declined an offer to become the French dictator.

Instead he decided to support Louis-Philippe.

Lafayette died on 20 May 1834.

He was buried in the Picpus Cemetery in Paris, under soil taken from the American Revolutionary War battlefield of Bunker Hill.

Locks of Hair

In the 18C, it was not unusual to preserve a loved one’s lock of hair.

For example, as with the example her, when Rebecca Greenleaf initially refused Noah Webster’s (1758-1843) proposal of marriage and was about to return to her home in Boston, in June, 1787, Webster wrote to her, "Without you the world is all alike to me; and with you any part will be agreeable."

"As a pledge of my sincerity, accept a lock of hair, and keep it no longer than I deserve to be remembered. You must go, and I must be separated from all that is dear to me; but you will be attended by guardian angels and the best wishes of your sincere and respectful admirer."

At the end of the 18C it became fashionable to insert hair decorations in the reverse of miniature portraits and later still to have hair ornaments made. 1365


Anonymous said...

I have found your site very useful, as I am trying to research a lithograph I have recently come across. It turns out to be Marie Antoinette Virginie De La Fayette. It is framed and in very nice shape. I am trying to find the value of this item and have had no luck. If anyone with experience in the Marquis De Lafayette history has any knowledge of this young woman(General's Daughter) please email me at Thank you

Anonymous said...

Hi! Don't know if you've already seen the Gilbert Stuart portrait of Lafayette yet, but perhaps this might be of help. The portrait appears to show grayish sideburns and is dated around 1824. I found the portrait at the following website. Hope this helps!