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Q: Search for Houdon Plaster Busts of George Washington ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Search for Houdon Plaster Busts of George Washington
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Visual Arts
Asked by: amsterdam-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 20 Sep 2002 18:16 PDT
Expires: 20 Oct 2002 18:16 PDT
Question ID: 67457
In preparation for sculpting the life size marble statue of George
Washington (now in the rotunda of the Virginia State Capitol) the
French sculptor Houdon made several plaster casts busts of Washington.
 How many of the plaster casts, attributed to Houdon, were made and
where are they today?
Subject: Re: Search for Houdon Plaster Busts of George Washington
Answered By: clouseau-ga on 20 Sep 2002 21:30 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello amsterdam,

And thank you for the question.

I came across the following at
, discussing the book by Jean Jules Jusserand (1855-1932).  "With
Americans of Past and Present Days" from 1916.
In Chapter II. Major L’Enfant and the Federal City, there is a
discussion of the Houdon bust and its cost. Major L'Enfant evidently
was required to write a letter to congress for Houdon as Houdon spoke
no English. Part of this chapter says:

"Congress had thought also of a marble bust (of Washington)  for the
hall where it sat. Houdon was taking home with him a finished model of
the head of the great man, and had exhibited it, for every one to say
his say, in the room of Congress.

Such busts, L’Enfant wrote, are generally paid in Europe five thousand
French livres; but as many duplicates will probably be ordered from
him, Houdon will lower the price to one hundred guineas. He begs
leave, however, to observe that a bust of the size of nature only may
be fit for a private and small room, but not for such a large one as
that devoted for the assembly of a Congress, where it should be
necessary to have a bust of a larger size to have it appear to
The price had been asked, too, of duplicates in plaster of Paris, for
private citizens. The answer was: four guineas, also in the thought
that a goodly number would be wanted, provided that there be a
subscription for a large number, and that the gentlemen who will have
any of these busts in their possession consider themselves as engaged
to prevent any copy from being taken; this last condition he humbly
insists upon."

So, not only were the original plasters made for models for the marble
statue, but an untold number of plaster of Paris for private citizens.

One is on display at Mount Vernon, as told in a
description of the Mansion Tour. It is on the First Floor, in the

The Chicago Historical Association notes at : :

"In 1784 the Congress of Virginia passed a resolution to have a statue
of President Washington made for the State Capitol. Governor Harrison
authorized Thomas Jefferson, then minister to France, to select a
European artist he considered worthy of this task. Benjamin Franklin
was consulted and the choice fell upon Houdon, the foremost portrait
sculptor of his time. Houdon's acceptance was immediate and
enthusiastic, although the commission necessitated a trip to the
United States and he would have to "leave behind unfinished statues of
kings," as Jefferson reported back home.

In July 1785 Houdon sailed for Philadelphia, accompanied by his friend
Franklin and three of his workmen. Advised of the master's arrival in
September of that year, Washington hastened to invite him, in a most
gracious letter, to Mount Vernon. After two weeks' work Houdon took a
life mask, other plaster impressions, minute measurements of
Washington's body and sketches back to Paris. His imposing and elegant
statue was completed in 1792 and today still adorns the front of the
Capitol in Richmond.

Using the same study material, Houdon later created several busts of
Washington, in terra cotta as well as in marble, which became not less
famous than the statue. Such a bust, reduced in size and cast in
bronze, is the original from which this reproduction was made. The
original is owned by the Mt. Vernon Ladies' Association."

So, we have a second verified original at the Mt. Vernon Ladies

Although you specifically expressed interest in plaster casts, I
thought you might find this of interest:
, has a page on historical information of George Washington and notes:

"In 1784, the Assembly of the State of Virginia commissioned a statue
of George Washington "to be of the finest marble and the best
workmanship." Thomas Jefferson, then ambassador to France, recommended
that Jean-Antoine Houdon, the most famous sculptor of the day, execute
the work...

...the statue was not completed and shipped to the United States until
1796, when it was installed in the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond.
During the 1850s, the Virginia State Legislature authorized the
casting of 11 bronze copies of the monument. Additional copies were
cast in the 20th century, including 22 by the Gorham Company. Bronze
copies are located in Northern Ireland, the National Gallery in
London, the Corcoran Gallery and Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.,
the Art Institute in Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum in New York." ,
williamsburg Sculpture has this to say:

"This bust of George Washington is made after the marble statue of
George Washington which stands in the rotunda of the Virginia Capitol.
Houdon made the statue in 1785 at the behest of the Virginia
legislature. Thomas Jefferson was the principle figure in obtaining
the commission. Benjamin Franklin accompanied Houdon on his trip from
France to America, where Houdon with the help of three assistants,
made a clay maquette and plaster bust of George Washington at Mt.
Vernon. Houdon also made a mould of Washington’s face which he brought
with him back to France together with a bust.

Houdon used Governeur Morris, Minister to France as a stand in model
for Washington while sculpting the body. The statue shows Washington
with his head lifted, dressed in his regimentals, the vest unbuttoned
at the top, his slight plumpness not concealed. Houdon made many busts
of George Washington, in terracotta, plaster, marble, and probably
bronze. The terracotta at Mt. Vernon shows Washington with a bare
chest and his hair tied in the back with a riband and hanging down the

So, again we have a mention of an untold quantity of busts in a
variety of materials including plaster.

A page on the portrait at George Washington University, , shows George
Washington by Jean-Antoine Houdon, plaster bust, circa 1786 in the
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Another mention:

"Voltaire, George Washington, Jean-Jacques Rousseau -- all were
memorialized in plaster and stone by the great French portraitist
Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828). A new exhibition at the Gallery of
Art -- drawn from the Michael Hall Collection, New York, and organized
by Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, LLC -- will feature 22 of Houdon's
sculptures, the most extensive exhibit of his work in 34 years.

"The Genius of Jean-Antoine Houdon" opens with a reception from 5 to 7
p.m. Friday, Jan. 22, and remains on view through March 21.

Houdon's work includes portraits of leading scientists, philosophers,
poets, and the aristocracy. Highlights of the new exhibition include a
1785 plaster bust of Washington, made during Houdon's visit to the
president's home at Mount Vernon, and a delicate bust of a
six-month-old child."

This appeared at
, a Washington Univeresity 1999 announcement. So, evidently The
Michael Hall Collection owns yet another original.

The George Washington Collection at the New York State Library at mentions:

"A bronze bust of Washington, copy of the Houdon Life-cast, cast by
The National fine Art Foundry in 1877. The bust is signed on the right
shoulder: HOUDON. LIFE-CAST and on the left shoulder: NAT. FINE ART
FOUNDERY./M.J. POWER. FOUNDER./N.Y. This was the first casting made
directly from the original plaster model, which was left by Houdon at
Mount Vernon. At the time of the 1911 fire in the Capitol, the bust
disappeared from the reading room of the State Library and was not
returned until 1921. The bust then remained in the office of Governor
Franklin D. Roosevelt until 1941 when it was returned to the State
Library for exhibition with the Washington manuscripts and relics."

And the Boston Athenaeum at shows they also have an

Jean-Antoine Houdon 
George Washington
[ca. 1786] Plaster bust
54.1 x 36 x 28.7 cm. 
(integral base) 
Gift of the heirs of Joseph 
Coolidge, Jr., 1912.

A press release by the National Gallery of Art at announces:


Release Date: September 9, 2002

New West Building Sculpture Galleries Presenting 800 Works of Art from
Nine Centuries Open to the Public on September 29, 2002

"Works from the late 18th and early 19th century include Antonio
Canova’s bronze Winged Victory (c. 1803/1806), which was designed for
the hand of a monumental statue of Napoleon; Jean-Antoine Houdon’s
plaster bust of George Washington (1786/1793); and busts by the great
portrait sculptors Joseph Chinard and Pierre-Jean David d’Angers."

They do not list this as being on loan from anywhere else, so I must
assume it is yet another original.

And finally, the National Portrait Gallery at 8th and F Street NW
(Gallery Place Metro station) in Washington, DC lists in their
posession yet another:

George Washington. Bust, plaster, c. 1786 by Jean Antoine Houdin
(1741-1828) noted by the Sons of the American Revolution at

I trust this information has been helpful, even though it appears
impossible to ascertain an exact number of plasters made by Houdon.

Best regards,

amsterdam-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
This was a most impressive response - I appreciate your very fast
response and apologize for taking so long to acknowledge - although I
already had some of your references I would probably not have found
others, especially the one from Jusserand.  Thank you very much - good

There are no comments at this time.

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