George Washington was born 285 years ago, today. Delegate to the Second Continental Congress from Virginia (1775), Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army (1775 – 1783) and President of the US (1789 – 1797). He retired to his home at Mount Vernon.
The sculpture discussed in the old article is in the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia.
THE BROCKPORT REPUBLIC
Thursday, Feb. 22, 1917
First Washington Statue by Houdon
In Washington’s diary for Oct. 3, 1785, he writes that about 11 o’clock, after they were in bed, Mr. Houdon and his three young men assistants arrived, coming by boat from Alexandria.
During the sculptor’s two weeks’ stay Washington sat for a bust that was modeled in clay, writing in his diary a full account of the method of mixing that plaster of paris and the making of the molds, a process in which he was greatly interested. He also submitted to the unpleasant operation of having a life mask made of his features in order to insure a perfect likeness. In the presence of Mr. Madison exact measurements of his figure were made and full details of his uniform were noted to enable the sculptor to complete his work.
The clay bust was then left by the sculptor at Mount Vernon, where it is one of the most highly valued of all Mount Vernon’s relics of the Father and His Country. But the life mask and molds of the bust Houdon himself took to Paris, not trusting them to the hands of his assistant, “for,” said he, “if they are lost in the ocean I am determined to perish with them.”
One day during his stay at Mount Vernon Washington was looking at some fine horses with a view to their purchase, but the high price asked by the groom in change so incensed him that the man was promptly sent away. Houdon, who witnessed the transaction saw with an artist’s eye in Washington’s pose and expression the very thing needed for his statue and made memorandum of it. On Oct. 19 Washington writes: “Mr. Houdon, having finished the business which brought him hither, went up Monday with his people, work and implements in my barge to Alexandria to take passage in the stage for Philadelphia next morning.”
The statue, according to agreement, was to be finished in three years, but was not completed until 1789. Jefferson saw the work as it progressed and was enthusiastic over the likeness and characteristics attitude that the sculpture had caught.——H. A. Ogden in St. Nicholas.