Washington's Features

oil painting of George Washington

By the time Canova was commissioned to create the statue of George Washington, the president had been dead for sixteen years. Of the available models to use to reproduce Washington’s features, it seemed at first that a painting, possibly one by Gilbert Stuart, would be most suitable. In the end, however, a sculptural model was preferred. Only two sculptures of Washington had been created from life: one in 1785 by Jean-Antoine Houdon and another in 1791 by Giuseppe Ceracchi. They are shown together for the first time in this exhibition.

Consul Appleton and Thomas Jefferson agreed that the Ceracchi, of which Appleton happened to own a plaster bust, was “the best effigy of him ever executed.” Ceracchi, an Italian sculptor, had visited the United States on two occasions, in 1790–92 and again 1794–95, and had portrayed a number of American figures, including the president. Condemned for conspiring against Napoleon, in Paris, Ceracchi was guillotined in 1801. His bust of Washington — hugely popular and widely reproduced — was sent by Appleton to Canova and faithfully followed by the sculptor.

© The Frick Collection