Bryan Leister

Portrait of Pierre L’Enfant

Oil Portrait of Pierre L'Enfant

Media: oil on board, size : 13″ X 18″ inches, completed: 1992, ©Bryan Leister

In 1992 I was commissioned to create an illustration of the architect of the nation’s capital, Pierre L’Enfant, for Washingtonian magazine. There is no known contemporary portrait of L’Enfant other than a silhouette created by Sarah DeHart while he was alive. Many publications have used a portrait erroneously identified as L’Enfant, and so the magazine decided they would commission me to create a realistic likeness of what he may have looked like. I worked with the District of Columbia Historical society to find all of the information I could about him and went about creating this likeness.

I found a very good pastel portrait of L’Enfants’ father and was able to use that as a reference along with the authentic silhouette image. For my initial drawings I used the silhouette and projected the facial lines to get his basic proportions.

I then photographed a model with features similar to L’Enfants’ to provide a reference for details. The costume is accurate based on my research and the medal is one that he would have worn had he posed for a portrait at that time. This portrait continues to be reprinted in books and other scholarly works about his life and Washington D.C. The original oil painting is in the District of Columbia Historical Society Museums’ collection in Washington, DC.

© 2023 Bryan Leister