The French musician Gilles-Louis Chrétien (1754-1811) invented the physiognotrace (physionotrace in French) in 1887. He used the apparatus to trace the silhouette of a sitter and at the same time, create a reduced copy, which could be used to engrave a lifelike image on a copper plate. Chalk drawings and oil sketches were also made using this technique. One of Chrétien’s earliest sitters was Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), who paid for the privilege while in Paris.
Eight years later, the French émigré Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin (1770-1852) brought a physiognotrace to the United States and Jefferson, now age sixty-one, again sat for a portrait. According to records at Monticello, Jefferson purchased 48 prints of his own portrait and collected a number of other portraits of friends and colleagues, which sold for about $25 each.
Both a print and the copper plate are on view in our Leonard L. Milberg Gallery for the exhibition, Capping Liberty: The Invention of a Numismatic Iconography for the New American Republic, on view through July 8, 2012.
See also Howard Rice, “Saint-Memin’s Portrait of Jefferson,” Princeton University Library Chronicle 20 (Summer 1959): 182-92. http://libweb5.princeton.edu/visualmaterials/pulc/pulcv20n_4.pdf
See also Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, Monticello: http://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/jefferson-portrait-saint-m%C3%A9min-physiognotrace