Jefferson in France: Then and Now

The five years that Thomas Jefferson lived in Paris, France made for some of the most influential times in his life. While abroad, Jefferson had the opportunities to experience great art and architecture, some of which followed him back to the states. The Hôtel de Salm, which currently houses the headquarters of the Legion of Honor, was a building that greatly intrigued Jefferson. Jefferson wrote about this 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. These structures, in particular the dome of Hôtel de Salm, were the inspiration for Monticello design.

Today, Jefferson’s admiration of the Hotel de Salm remains through a 10-foot bronze statue on the left bank of the Seine River in Paris. The statue is situated so that Jefferson’s eyes point towards his inspiration, holding a piece of paper showing his first vision of Monticello.

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From my own time in France it was easy to see how Jefferson was so heavily influenced by Paris. Jefferson described what he gained from France as a “treasure of art, science and sentiment.” I believe anyone could agree on this statement, even in today’s world. Paris is one of the cleaner cities I’ve encountered, and also one of the greenest. There are many parks, including the royal Tuileries, Jefferson’s preference, that give the city a more peaceful feel. Also, nearly all of central Paris is built of beautiful, timeless buildings. After a visit, it was clear why Jefferson loved spending time there and was so inspired.

France was not only an influence on Jefferson’s architecture preferences, but also his everyday life. After his five year stay, he had 86 crates arranged to be shipped back to Philadelphia, including chairs, clocks, and goblets. Today you can find French-inspired items and Jeffersonian reproductions through The Shop at Monticello.



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