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The Eye of Thomas Jefferson

June 5 – September 6, 1976
Ground Floor, all exhibition spaces (20,000 sq. ft.), Main Floor, West Garden Court, Lobby A

Installation view of The Eye of Thomas Jefferson, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Gallery Archives

This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.

Overview: More than 600 works of art and other objects connected with the times, tastes, and visual interests of Thomas Jefferson were on view. Paintings, sculpture, drawings and prints, books, and decorative arts including silver, porcelain, and furniture were borrowed from more than 100 sources in Europe and the United States. This was one of the most complex exhibitions yet installed at the National Gallery. The objective was to present a comprehensive examination of Jefferson's contribution to the creative arts and of the sources from which he drew his inspiration. Sir Francis J.B. Watson, 1975-1976 Kress Professor, served as chairman of the International Steering Committee for the exhibition, which was organized by W. Howard Adams with Ross Watson, research curator. Guest designers John Bedenkapp and Elroy Quenroe created the elaborate installation. Among the special effects were a full-scale reconstruction of the Central Hall of Barboursville, a house designed by Jefferson in 1817; a special tempietto to display the Venus de' Medici from the Uffizi; and a Jeffersonian garden installed in the West Garden Court with more than 500 plants representing some 30 species of interest to Jefferson. A 5-foot pagoda cage housed 2 mockingbirds, since Jefferson had a pet mockingbird that flew freely around the White House. The catalogue contained 609 entries by more than 30 contributors.

On the evening of June 1, an 18th-century fireworks display was held on the Mall at the reflecting pool below the Capitol. The program, with the theme "Triumph of Reason and Order over Chaos and War," was produced by the Société Ruggieri, the same pyrotechnic firm whose fireworks Jefferson had admired in Paris and at Versailles while he was United States minister to France.

Queen Elizabeth II viewed the exhibition on July 8. She had previously visited in October 1957 when she toured the permanent collection and the special exhibition of William Blake.

Sponsor: The exhibition was supported by a grant from Exxon Corporation. The fireworks spectacle was supported by a grant from the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation.

Leaflet: Jeffersonian Botanical Garden, by Eleanor McPeck and Donald Hand. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1976.

Related publication: Jefferson and the Arts: An Extended View. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1976.

Program: "The Triumph of Reason and Order over Chaos and War," a Feu d'Artifice with Music. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1976.

Attendance: 281,084

Catalog: The Eye of Thomas Jefferson, edited by William Howard Adams. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1976.

Brochure: The Eye of Thomas Jefferson. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1976.

Fireworks/Feux d'Artifices
June 10 – September 6, 1976

Download a free PDF of the exhibition catalog (PDF 128MB)