"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Saturday, December 11, 2021

George Washington

This  statue of George Washington by Jean-Antoine Houdon stands in the rotunda of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond.  As Everything Explained explains “The date given for the sculpture varies. It was commissioned by the Virginia General Assembly in 1784, begun in 1785, signed "1788", completed in 1791 or '92, and delivered in 1796.”

The 2009 Visitor's Guide to the Capitol Building says this about the statue.
A magnificent life-size marble statue of George Washington stands under an interior dome in the two-story Rotunda, located in the central portion of the Capitol. In June of 1784 General Assembly commissioned this statue "of the finest marble and best workmanship" as a tribute to Virginia's most respected citizen-soldier. Governor Benjamin Harrison wrote to Thomas Jefferson, who was serving on a diplomatic mission in Paris, and asked him to engage a sculptor. Jefferson secured the services of Jean-Antoine Houdon, a skilled French artist. In the fall of 1785 Houdon visited Mount Vernon to study the General. He made a plaster mask of Washington's face, took detailed measurements of his body, and modeled a terra cotta bust. The statue was sculpted in France from fine Carrara marble and shipped to America early in 1796. Placed in the Rotunda on May 14th of that same year, the statue has been on nearly continuous display ever since. It was viewed by many of Washington's contemporaries, all of whom attested that it was a perfect likeness.

Houdon's statue alludes to the similarities between Washington and the ancient Roman General Cincinnatus who, when Rome no longer needed him, gave up his military power and returned to the simple life of a farmer. The artist carefully balanced the military and civilian elements of Washington's career: his sword is by his side, and he rests his left hand on a fasces (a bundle of rods, which was a Roman symbol of power), but he carries a civilian walking cane and stands next to a plow. Washington wears his Revolutionary uniform, but his head is uncovered and his facial expression is fatherly. Houdon's monument to America's foremost hero recalls Washington's life as a soldier, statesman, and virtuous private citizen.

George Washington

The General Assembly of the Commonwealth
of Virginia have caused this Statue to be erected.
as a monument of affection and gratitude to
George Washington
who uniting to the endowments of the Hero
the virtues of the Patriot and exerting both
in establishing the Liberties of his Country
has rendered his name dear to his Fellow Citizens
and given the world an immortal example
of true Glory Done in the year of
One thousand seven hundred and eighty eight
and in the year of the Commonwealth this the Twelfth

The 1784 resolution can be found in Hening's Statutes at Large, Vol 11, Page 552 

fait par houdon Citoyen francais, 1788

The angle of the photo below emphasizes the "Farmer's Plow" that associates Washington with Cincinnatus.

Kamerer and Nolley in 2003 say this about Houdon's work:

In Richmond stands a marble statue of George Washington that is among the most notable pieces of eighteenth-century art, one of the most important works in the nation, and, some think, the truest likeness of perhaps the first American to become himself an icon. A life-sized representation sculpted by France’s Jean-Antoine Houdon between 1785 and 1791 on a commission from Virginia’s legislature, it was raised in the capitol rotunda in 1796, the year Washington published his Farewell Address.   

George Parker made this engraving "daguerreotyped from the statue" around the time of the Civil War.

Geo. Washington
From the Statue by Houdon, in the Capitol, Richmond, Va.

And Harper's Weekly published this woodcut after a photograph by Rockwood in 1868.

Houdon's Statue of Washington
(Photographed by Rockwood)

In 1929, James W. Brooks called this “America's most valuable marble statue.

America's most valuable marble Statue. It stands in the rotunda of the Capitol.

On George Washington's Birthday in 1931 this picture appeared in a variety of newspapers, this one is from the Nogales (Ariz.) International.

Face of Houdon's Statue.

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