Jefferson in Paris  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Jefferson in Paris is a 1995 American-French historical drama film directed by James Ivory. The screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is a semi-fictional account of Thomas Jefferson's tenure as the Ambassador of the United States to France prior to his Presidency, and his alleged relationships with artist Maria Cosway and slave Sally Hemings.

Plot synopsis

Set in the period between 1784 and 1789, the film portrays Jefferson as an ambassador at Versailles prior to the French Revolution. French liberals and intellectuals hope he will lead them away from the corruption of the court of King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette and toward a more democratic form of government. Although deploring the poverty of the common people, he embraces the riches of French culture and civilization. It is his first time abroad, and he takes advantage of the opportunity to extend his knowledge of liberal arts and science while absorbing the refinements France has to offer.

A lonely widower, Jefferson enters into a love affair with beautiful Anglo-Italian painter and musician Maria Cosway. Although she is willing to sacrifice everything for him, his attachments to the memory of his wife, to whom he promised never to marry again, and to his two daughters, especially the elder, possessive Patsy, prevent him from fully committing to the relationship. At the same time, he finds himself attracted to younger daughter Polly's nurse Sally Hemings, his wife's half-sister sired by her father with one of his mulatto slaves. Sally's brother James is in Paris as well, learning to prepare French cuisine for Monticello. When George Washington offers Jefferson the post of Secretary of State, he accepts and prepares to sail home with his family. But James, having enjoyed his freedom in Paris, is not willing to return to the United States and urges Sally to remain with him. It is only when Jefferson promises he will give James and Sally - who is pregnant with Jefferson's child - their freedom that they consent to leave with him.


The film was shot on location in Paris and Versailles. It premiered at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, where it was nominated for the Palme d'Or. It lost to Underground from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The soundtrack includes baroque music performances by William Christie, Les Arts Florissants, Jory Vinikour, Jean-Paul Fouch├ęcourt, and Sandrine Piau.

The film was budgeted at $14 million. It grossed $2,473,668 in the US<ref name="Mojo" />.


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Jefferson in Paris" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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