Portraits of Marquis de Lafayette & Eight Additional Subjects
Artist: Constantine Rafinesque 1783-1840
Nine pencil-on-paper bust portraits (two with reverse image). Paper size varies from 6 ½” x 4 7/8” for Lafayette, seven images are 6 3/8” x 3 7/8”, the smallest is 4 7/8” x 3 7/8”, all loose and unframed
Ref. No. 070327_013
$23,000 – for nine images, two with abandoned partial images on the reverse.
This group of portraits, which includes a profile likeness of the Marquis De Lafayette, were probably drawn from life at a ceremony for the General’s visit to Lexington in 1825. A dinner was hosted at the campus home of Horace Holly, president of Transylvania which would have been the likely site. These bust sketches are each assigned an index number for a presumably lost list. Names are written on the reverse of two portraits. The woman (#8), sketched full frontal, is inscribed Madeline Schmalty? and the man (#5) is identified as Major Geo. C. Thompson, fourth image from the bottom. Although apparently early inscriptions, these names were likely not added by the artist.
Transylvania University Library has a similar group of 25 pencil portraits, which are attributed to Rafinesque. Their group does not have the same index system but are certainly by the same hand as these sharing a common paper source. The sketches in the library are presumably drawn elsewhere (see page 37 of Marquis Boultinghouse’s book Silversmiths of Kentucky to view an image of Samuel Ayre’s portrait by Rafinesque in the collection of Transylvania). Images of Transylvania’s full set can be viewed in Weiss’ book listed in the bibliography below.
Mary Austin Holley (wife of Horace Holley) commented about her friend, “Rafinesque was in the habit of sketching visitors and friends.” Lafayette is assigned the #1 designation, which suggests these portraits are products of the ceremony in his honor at the Holly’s house while Rafinesque was Professor of Botany, Natural History and Modern Languages at the college. Rafinesque was a frequent visitor at the Holly’s home.
The subject identified as Jennings (#6) may be a member of Lafayette’s entourage, as the hair, clothing, and earring seem atypical costume for Lexington during this period. The inscription Jennings appears to be by the same hand as the inscription beneath Samuel Ayres portrait, needlessly reinforcing the Rafinesque attribution.
These portraits were discovered among uninventoried works on paper in an old storage box at Kennedy Galleries of NYC when closing their business. These works represent the only opportunity, which I have encountered to buy a Rafinesque drawing. Aside from Transylvania’s drawings, I know of no other works by Rafinesque, which are in any public Kentucky collections.
Dupree, Huntley. Rafinesque in Lexington, 1819-1826. Lexington, Kentucky: Bur Press, 1945.
Warren, Leonard. Constantine Samuel Rafinesque. Lexington, Kentucky: University of Kentucky, 2004. See p. 83.
Weiss, Harry Bischoff. RAFINESQUE’S KENTUCKY FRIENDS. Highland Park, NJ:
Privately Printed, 1936. Heartman’s Historical Series No. 49.
Wright Jr., John D. Transylvania: Tutor to the West. Lexington, Kentucky: Transylvania University, 1974. See p. 102.