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Past Exhibition

All Objects

  • sculpture of George Washington seated holding tablet

    Antonio Canova (1757–1822)
    Modello for George Washington, 1818
    Plaster
    66 1/2 x 39 3/8 x 54 3/4 in. (169 x 100 x 139 cm)
    Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova, Possagno
    Fondazione Canova onlus, Possagno; photo Fabio Zonta  

     

    Before carving the marble block for a sculpture, Canova typically created a full-size plaster preparatory model (modello). This modello provides the closest idea of the destroyed marble. It was completed in April 1818, as attested by the inscription on the back.

    The modello, which has traveled outside of Italy for the first time for this exhibition, is shown here alone to echo the effect the marble sculpture would have had in the rotunda of the Raleigh State House. Washington — the lawgiver and father of the United States — is seen drafting his farewell address: “Giorgio Washington / Al Popolo degli Stati Uniti / 1796 / Amici e Concittadini” (George Washington / To the People of the United States / 1796 / Friends and Citizens). The base of the statue, and of the others in this exhibition, in faux marble, is after a design by Canova himself, which he used for his plaster modelli, now mostly at the Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova in Possagno.

  • terracotta sculpture of George Washington

    Antonio Canova (1757–1822)
    Primo Pensiero for George Washington, 1817
    Terracotta
    13 3/8 x 11 3/8 x 8 1/8 in. (34 x 29 x 20.5 cm)
    Museo di Roma, Palazzo Braschi, Rome
    © Roma - Sovrintendenza Capitolina ai Beni Culturali - Museo di Roma; photo Mauro Magliani

     

    Canova’s work on the George Washington began with three-dimensional sketches in terracotta. This is likely to be his primo pensiero (first thought) for the sculpture — a working tool, with clay added quickly as the artist was developing ideas for the composition and iconography. Here, Washington appears seated, at his side a cornucopia that indicates the prosperity of the United States. It is possible to see pencil marks on his torso and shoulders, as well as several fingerprints in the clay.

  • scale model of sculpture of seated George Washington

    Antonio Canova (1757–1822)
    Bozzetto for George Washington, 1817
    Plaster
    20 1/8 x 9  x 17 3/4 in. (51 x 23 x 45 cm)
    Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova, Possagno
    Fondazione Canova onlus, Possagno; photo Fabio Zonta

     

    In December 1817, Canova produced a second three-dimensional sketch for the George Washington, which he described as “much superior to my first idea.” The body is more upright and the position of the legs reversed. Instead of a toga, the president wears ancient armor. He is shown writing, as in the two drawings, and with a crown and scepter on the floor, having relinquished his command. On a tablet is the Latin inscription LEX / PATRIA / LIBERTAS (Law, Homeland, Liberty).

  • sculpture of nude male seated

    Antonio Canova (1757–1822)
    Bozzetto for George Washington, 1817
    Plaster
    31 1/2 x 18 1/8  x 26 3/4 in. (80 x 46 x 68 cm)
    Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova, Possagno
    Fondazione Canova onlus, Possagno; photo Fabio Zonta

     

    It was common practice for sculptors to produce anatomical sketches of nude figures, even if they were meant to be shown clothed in the final sculpture. To study various parts of the body, Canova had a model pose in the studio, seated on a cushion on a stool. He was particularly interested in the position of the legs and the relationship of the outstretched arms to the head.

  • plaster scale sculpture of seated George Washington holding tablet

    Antonio Canova (1757–1822)
    Bozzetto for George Washington, 1817
    Plaster
    31 1/2 x 18 1/8  x 25 5/8 in. (80 x 46 x 65 cm)
    Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova, Possagno
    Fondazione Canova onlus, Possagno; photo Fabio Zonta

     

    In the final sketch for the sculpture, Canova created a more finished model. Here, the figure’s armor is highly decorated. The artist replaced the crown and scepter, seen in the second bozzetto, with a sword and baton more appropriate for a republican statesman. The words on the tablet are also reordered: PATRIA / LIBERTAS / ET LEX (Homeland, Liberty, and Law).

  • graphite sketch of man seated

    Antonio Canova (1757–1822)
    Study for George Washington, 1817
    Graphite on paper
    3 1/8 x 4 in. (80 x 100 mm)
    Museo Civico, Bassano del Grappa
    Su gentile concessione MBA Musei Biblioteca Archivio di Bassano del Grappa  

     

    Alongside three-dimensional sketches, Canova also produced drawings in preparation for the Washington sculpture. After his death, many of the drawings were collected in a series of albums. This small drawing shows a first idea for the statue. The figure is draped and seated on a low stool, while presenting a tablet. It was probably produced after the primo pensiero was modeled. 

  • graphite sketches of man on horse and man seated

    Antonio Canova (1757–1822)
    Studies for the Equestrian Monument to Charles III of Naples and for George Washington, 1817
    Graphite on paper
    7 1/2 x 5 1/4 in. (192 x 132 mm)
    Museo Civico, Bassano del Grappa
    Su gentile concessione MBA Musei Biblioteca Archivio di Bassano del Grappa

     

    While at work on the George Washington, Canova was also thinking about a bronze equestrian monument of King Charles III for Naples. This sheet shows drawings for both commissions. The Washington is shown with two variants of his outstretched arms.

  • plaster bust of George Washington

    Antonio Canova (1757–1822)
    George Washington, 1818
    Plaster
    27 1/2 x 18 1/8  x 14 5/8 in. (70 x 46 x 37 cm)
    Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova, Possagno
    Fondazione Canova onlus, Possagno; photo Fabio Zonta

     

    Canova often preserved the images of his sitters in plaster, such as this bust of George Washington. These could be used in the workshop to produce subsequent marble versions. This plaster was kept in the sculptor’s workshop until his death, even though no marble busts after it are known.

  • oii painting of man seated in slight profile, wearing red satin, fur-trimmed overcoat

    Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830)
    Antonio Canova, 1815–19
    Oil on canvas
    35 3/8 x 28 3/8 in. (90 x 72 cm)
    Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova, Possagno
    Fondazione Canova onlus, Possagno

     

    In 1815, Pope Pius VII sent Canova to Paris and London to secure the restitution of artworks taken from Rome by Napoleon. In gratitude, the pope made the artist Marquis of Ischia a year later. While in London, Canova posed for Thomas Lawrence, who showed this portrait at the Royal Academy in 1816. Lawrence reworked the portrait during a second sitting in Rome, in 1819. Dressed as a wealthy gentleman, Canova is shown at the time he was working on the Washington sculpture.

  • oil painting of seated George Washington

    Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828)
    George Washington, 1795
    Oil on canvas
    29 1/2 x 24 in. (74.3 x 61 cm)
    The Frick Collection, New York
    © The Frick Collection

     

    Gilbert Stuart painted more than one hundred portraits of George Washington. This example, acquired in 1918 by Henry Clay Frick and kept in his office, is an early autograph replica of Stuart’s first portrait of Washington from life. It remains one of the best-known images of the president.

  • terracotta bust of George Washington

    Giuseppe Ceracchi (1751–1801)
    George Washington, ca. 1791–92
    Terracotta
    H. 29 1/2 in. (75 cm)
    Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes
    © Nantes Métropole - Musée d'arts de Nantes - Photographie: C. CLOS

     

    This monumental terracotta bust is likely the one made from life by Giuseppe Ceracchi. The imposing representation of the president was brought back to Europe by the sculptor and, after his death, belonged to his Austrian widow, Theresa, who eventually sold it. This bust is probably the prototype from which all other Ceracchi busts of Washington were produced.

  • marble bust of George Washington

    Giuseppe Ceracchi (1751–1801)
    George Washington, ca. 1792
    Marble
    H. 23 7/8 in. (60.6 cm)
    Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina
    Image courtesy of the Gibbes Museum of Art/Carolina Art Association

     

    Ceracchi’s bust of George Washington exists in many versions. Marble copies followed the terracotta and plaster models. Some were created by Ceracchi during his lifetime, others after his death. There was huge demand. In 1806, a Charleston newspaper advertised various versions: “these copies will be taken in gesso, or stucco, and shall be of three sizes vis.—one size colossal and molded from the original; one copy after the size of nature; and another copy half the size of nature.” Prices were adjusted accordingly.

  • plaster mask of George Washington

    Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828)
    Life Mask of George Washington, 1785
    Plaster
    H. 12 1/2 in. (31.8 cm)
    The Morgan Library & Museum, New York
    The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York

     

    In 1784, through the intercession of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, who were in Paris, the French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon was commissioned to carve a full-length marble statue of George Washington for the State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia. Houdon traveled to America, and stayed for a fortnight at Mount Vernon, in October 1785. While there, he created a terracotta bust of Washington and executed a life mask of him. Years later, Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Eleanor Parke “Nelly” Custis Lewis, recalled this scene from her childhood:

    [I] found the General extended on his back on a large table, a sheet over him, except his face, on which Houdon was engaged in putting on plaster to form the cast. Quills were in the nostrils. I was very much alarmed until I was told it was a bust, a likeness of the General, & would not injure him.

    Houdon traveled back to Paris with the life mask, possibly this exemplar, to use for his marble sculpture, which was completed in 1792 and unveiled in Richmond in 1796.

  • etching and engraving of seated George Washington holding large tablet

    Giovanni Tognoli (1786–1862) and Angelo Bertini (1783–after 1838), after Antonio Canova (1757–1822)
    George Washington, 1819
    Etching and engraving on paper
    17 7/8 x 12 7/8 in. (453 x 326 mm)
    Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova, Possagno
    Fondazione Canova onlus, Possagno

     

    Most of Canova’s sculptures were recorded in print after they were created, assuring the dissemination of the work’s image throughout Europe, following the shipment of the marble sculpture to North Carolina. This print and another print were produced after the George Washington.

  • etching and engraving of seated George Washington holding large tablet

    Giovanni Tognoli (1786–1862) and Domenico Marchetti (1780–1844), after Antonio Canova (1757–1822)
    George Washington, 1819
    Etching and engraving on paper
    17 7/8 x 12 7/8  in. (453 x 326 mm)
    Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova, Possagno
    Fondazione Canova onlus, Possagno

     

    Most of Canova’s sculptures were recorded in print after they were created, assuring the dissemination of the work’s image throughout Europe, following the shipment of the marble sculpture to North Carolina. This print and another print were produced after the George Washington.

  • lithograph depicting man, woman and child viewing monument of George Washington

    Albert Newsam (1809–1864), after Joseph Weisman (act. 1840s) and Emanuel Leutze (1816–1868)
    The Marquis de Lafayette Visiting the State Capitol in Raleigh in March 1825, 1840s
    Lithograph on paper
    34 1/2 x 28 1/2 in. (876 x 724 mm)
    North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh
    Courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of History

     

    This print commemorating the visit of the Marquis de Lafayette to Raleigh in March 1825 is the only visual record of the George Washington in the rotunda of the State House. Lafayette had known Washington well, and an eyewitness at the time stated that the marquis thought that “the likeness was so much better than he expected to see.” Unfortunately, this print was produced at least ten years after the marble sculpture was destroyed, so the representation of Canova’s sculpture and of the architectural space is not accurate.

  • marble fragment of base with signature

    Antonio Canova (1757–1822)
    Fragment of George Washington (base and signature), 1818–20
    Marble
    16 1/2 x 25 x 4 3/4 in. (41.9 x 63.5 x 12.1 cm)
    North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh
    Courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of History

     

    Following the destruction of the State House, in 1831, the fragments of Canova’s statue were preserved for future restoration. The work was never restored, but the charred and weathered fragments still survive, divided among four different locations in Raleigh. This fragment, from the base of the statue, shows part of the sword sheath, which originally rested on the floor under Washington’s legs. In this area, Canova also carved his signature in Latin: “A[ntonio] Canova made this in Rome, 1820.” This, like the other fragments, is an important archaeological relic of one of America’s most celebrated early masterpieces.