"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Pierre Charles L'Enfant

This 1785 Silhouette of Pierre Charles L'Enfant by Sarah DeHart hangs in the Diplomatic Reception Room in the State Department in Washington DC.  It is the only known contemporary image of L'Enfant. 

Appleton's Cyclop√¶dia, 1888,  gives this short summary of L'Enfant's life.
L’ENFANT, Peter Charles (lon-fon’), engineer, b. in France in 1755; d.in Prince George’s county, Md., 14 June, 1825. He was a lieutenant in the French provisional service, and came to this country with Lafayette in 1777. He entered the Continental army in the autumn of that year as an engineer, was made captain, 18 Feb., 1778, and at the siege of Savannah was wounded and left on the field. He afterward served under the immediate command of Washington, became a major, 2 May, 1783, was employed as an engineer at Fort Mifflin in 1794, and appointed professor of engineering at the U.S. military academy in July, 1812, but declined. He drew the plan for the city of Washington, and was architect of some of its public buildings. He designed a dwelling for Robert Morris in Philadelphia on such a scale that the latter could not afford to complete it. 

 Various images of L'Enfant  have appeared  through the years, like this 1941 newspaper cut.

Maj. Pierre Charles L'Enfant 
The Sunday Star, Washington DC
March 9, 1941, Part Two, C-5.

This  illustration appeared in the Washington Evening Star in 1936.


Perhaps those portraits were influenced by Charles Parocel's portrait of  L'Enfant's father, painter Pierre Charles L'Enfant (1704-1787). Parocel was L'Enfant senior's teacher. This image is taken from The Life of Pierre Charles L'Enfant by H. Paul Caemmerer.


  This 1987 commemorative envelope celebrating American Immigrants leans in the direction of the silhouette, but smooths over the bend in the nose and the downward pointing chin.

Pierre Charles L'Enfant
Commissioned to Design Washington, D.C.
March 1, 1791  ● Washington, D.C. 

Gordon Kray's 2007 statue of L'Enfant was recently unveiled in the Capitol. As the L'Enfant City Blog said in 2010, “The statue's profile appears to adhere closely to the only known contemporary likeness of L'Enfant, which was a silhouette executed by Sara DeHart in 1785 and today hangs in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the State Department.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. in the Washington Blade, wonders if  this might be the “First statue a of gay figure in U.S. Capitol?” 

For more on L'Enfant's life, work and death see Landmarks Blog: L'Enfant was buried here, from 2013.

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