July 2008
Mona Lisa Letter, 1963

“...I am sure that alliance and friendship between both nations will be establish’d in such a way as will last for ever.”

-- the Marquis de Lafayette in a letter to George Washington, June 12, 1779


Chère Madame,
Le Ministre a bien reçu la lettre que vous lui avez addressée le 27 février, lui exprimant la joie ressentie par les nombreux Américains qui ont pu venir voir "La Joconde" à Washington ou à New-York.

Monsieur André MALRAUX a été très touché des termes aimables de votre lettre et vous en remercie bien sincèrement.

Je vous prie d'agréer, chère Madame, l'assurance de mes sentiments les plus distingués.
Philippe BLANC.

Dear Madam,
The Minister received your letter of February 27, expressing the joy felt by numerous Americans who were able to see the “Mona Lisa” in Washington or in New York.

Mr. André Malraux was very touched by the friendly terms of your letter and sincerely thanks you.

I beg to remain, dear Madam, yours faithfully.
Philippe Blanc

In 1963, the Mona Lisa traveled to the United States and was on display in Washington, D.C. and in New York. The trip was one of only two times in the twentieth century that the painting left France for exhibit (it was also stolen once, in 1911). Mrs. Ann Hendricks of Alexandria saw the portrait and was moved to write her thanks for the opportunity to the French Cultural Affairs Ministry; this is the letter she received in response.

Alexandrians and the French have a long shared history in diplomacy, arts and letters. By virtue of being a port city, Alexandria and its inhabitants were frequently exposed to foreign vessels, goods, ideas, and individuals. In 1794, for example, Alexandria mayor Dennis Ramsay and French vice consul P.A. Cherui wrote to the Virginia governor to solicit help for a group of stranded French emigrants from Santo Domingo. On a lighter note and over a century later, Alexandrian Nancy Tackett traveled to Paris as a tourist and wrote this letter home.

French Portraitist in Alexandria

Some of the most interesting portraits created of Alexandrians were done by Charles Févret de Saint-Mémin in 1805. Saint-Mémin was a former French aristocrat and self-taught artist who arrived in the United States in 1793 and soon began traveling the country doing small profile portraits using a machine called a physiognotrace. For $25 ($35 for ladies), the purchaser received a crayon drawing, a copperplate, and 12 engraved images. In the spring and summer of 1805, Saint-Mémin completed at least 25 portraits of Alexandria area residents, including Edward Carter, Elisha Cullen Dick, Eleanor Parke Custis, and Benjamin Ricketts. Saint-Mémin eventually created more than 1,000 physiognotrace portraits of Americans before he deliberately broke his machine and returned to France in 1814, where he became a museum director in his hometown of Dijon. For a brief time (1968-1971), the artist was remembered again in Alexandria with the Saint-Memin art gallery, run by Horace Day out of 113 N. Fairfax Street, Apartment 1.