Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834)
Enamel on copper
The Marquis de Lafayette captured the hearts of American patriots in 1777 when he sacrificed his aristocratic life in France to fight under Washington's command. He wrote to his wife, "The welfare of America is intimately connected with the happiness of all mankind." The aging general returned to America in August 1824, for a triumphal tour marking the fiftieth anniversary of the American Revolution. French artist Ary Scheffer presented a portrait of Lafayette to the House of Representatives. Based on that full-length, life-size likeness, William Russell Birch created bust-length miniatures in enamel, including this one, to be marketed during the tour. By adding an American flag in the upper right and depicting the Battle of Yorktown in the lower left, Birch memorializes Lafayette's actions at the climactic confrontation that helped corner the British forces, leading to their surrender. During his "Triumphal Tour," Lafayette participated in the anniversary celebration of the Battle of Yorktown. Through the sale of small commemoratives such as this one, heroes of the American Revolution remained ever present in the American home and psyche a half-century after the conflict's end.
Helen A. Cooper et al., Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2008), 11921, no. 62, ill.