may I ask the favor of you to present my request to your son that he would be so good as to make a copy of the portrait he took of me, and of the same size? it is intended for a friend who has expressed a wish for it; and when ready I will give directions to whom it shall be delivered if he will be so good as to drop me a line mentioning it & the price.
To Charles Willson Peale, February 21, 1801
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart people, not just smart leaders, know the cost in advance.
Peale (1741 – 1827) was a noted Philadelphia painter. He also owned a distinguished natural history museum there. (Many of Lewis & Clark’s specimens from their western expedition found a permanent home in Peale’s museum.)
Peale had sons who were also painters. The son referred to here is Rembrandt Peale (1778 – 1860), named after you know who. Jefferson wanted Rembrandt to make a copy of his 1800 portrait for a friend. When it was completed, Rembrandt was to notify Jefferson and tell him what it cost.
Some of Jefferson’s financial woes were inflicted on him. Others were of his own making. This is an example of the latter. He was unfailingly generous toward others and gave no thought to the cost of such gifts, even extravagant ones like a duplicate portrait for a friend.
At age 81, he would write 10 points of advice for a young boy, based on his own life experiences. Point #3: “Never spend your money before you have it.” It was a lesson he never learned, and by that time, he was hopelessly in debt.