William Hubard, after Jean-Antoine Houdon, Bronze, 1909
The “Father of His Country” twice yielded, rather than seized, the nation’s reins of power. After the Revolution, Washington resigned as military leader, and after two terms as president, he returned to private life as a gentleman farmer.
On this date, the bronze statue of President George Washington
arrived at the Capitol. Submitted as one of Virginia’s National Statuary Hall Collection
contributions, this work replaced a plaster version that Thomas Jefferson
had secured for the Capitol. Both Washington statues were cast from the Jean-Antoine Houdon work located at the Virginia state capitol building in Richmond. The original sculpture was commissioned by the Virginia general assembly in 1785. At the time of the commission, Houdon was considered the outstanding sculptor of Europe. As a testament to George Washington’s international fame in the late 18th century, Houdon cancelled a commission for the Empress of Russia in order to take the opportunity to sculpt the celebrated revolutionary. His image, based on measurements and casts from life, is considered one of the most accurate of the famous founding father. The U.S. Capitol’s Washington is one of 22 authorized bronze copies from the original marble statue in Virginia. The Capitol’s statue of Washington was cast by the Gorham Company of Providence, Rhode Island. At the official presentation of the statue, which took place years later in 1934, George Peery
, former Representative and then governor of Virginia, said, “In presenting the statue of Washington . . . Virginia feels that she has set the chief star in the Nation’s Hall of Fame.” This invocation clearly spoke to Washington’s enduring fame and reflects the artist’s enthusiasm in taking the commission in 1785.