Adams Family Correspondence, volume 5



John Quincy Adams by Isaak Schmidt, 1783 215[unavailable]

Isaak Schmidt, an Amsterdam artist, painted this portrait of John Quincy Adams during his stay at The Hague from April to August 1783. It is a small pastel on vellum, measuring 10¼ by 7¾ inches. Though Adams was only sixteen years old that summer, he just had returned from Russia after spending more than a year as private secretary to the American representative, Francis Dana. It is a picture of a boy, but a boy moving in an international world, developing into a poised, intelligent, and mature young adult.

Naturally, as a concerned parent, John Adams solicited reports on his son's whereabouts during his long journey back to the Netherlands. Even discounting the desire of his correspondents to flatter the important American, it is apparent that John Quincy impressed those he met (see John Adams to Abigail Adams, 7 April 1783 and note 6, below). It is also apparent that he greatly enjoyed himself at the same time. Twenty-eight years later Adams, then U.S. minister to Russia, recalled that the Swedish were “the kindest hearted, friendliest and most hospitable people in Europe.” “I entered Sweden in November and left it in February. The beauties of the Country therefore, whatever they may be, were hidden from my eyes,” but “the beauties of the women . . . were not, and indeed could not be concealed. . . . [T]he Swedish women of that time were as modest, as they were amiable and beautiful. But to me, it was truly the 'land of lovely dames,' and to this hour I have not forgotten the palpitations of heart which some of them cost me, and of which they never knew” (to Alexander H. Everett, 19 August 1811, Everett-Peabody Papers, MHi).

After Adams returned to America in 1785 to continue his formal education, his sister, Abigail, hung the picture in her room. “I would not mortify you by saying I think it a likeness nor Pay so Poor a compliment to my own judgment. However as it was intended for you I shall look upon it for you, and derive some satisfaction from it, and at the same time wish it were better” (Abigail Adams 2d to John Quincy Adams, 4 July 1785, vol. 6). When he was sixty-four years old Adams remarked about himself and the early likeness that “they who look at the bald head, the watery eye, and the wrinkled brow of this day, would search in vain for the strong likeness which it was said to exhibit when it was taken” (to Caroline Amelia de xviWindt, 20 August 1831, de Windt Coll., MHi). The portrait descended through Abigail Adams 2d's family; it is now owned by the National Portrait Gallery.

Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.