About the Memorial
After Jean-Antoine Houdon
George Washington, 1785-88 Bronze, 6' 8"
Cast by the Gorham Company, 1932
Albany’s life-size bronze cast of George Washington is a reproduction of the famous marble original by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon, which graces the rotunda of Thomas Jefferson’s State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia. In 1784 while Jefferson was serving as Minister to France, he secured the services of the French master artist, Houdon for the Washington commission. This was vital to the project, as there were no sculptors in America in the 1780s who were capable of creating a portrait statue. Houdon traveled to Mount Vernon to take detailed measurements of Washington and create a clay bust. The finished sculpture depicts him wearing the uniform of the Revolutionary officer, a choice Washington made over the classical garb often adopted in portraits of statesmen at that time.
Houdon scholar H. H. Aronson reported that the sculptor believed the statue was “one of the most important commissions of his life, and adding his own praise, wrote that the statue is “perhaps the finest portrayal of Washington in existence. One that embodies a curiously reflective and inward quality which may not accord with our general impression of Washington, but which adds a dimension to our conception of him".1
Several bronze and plaster copies of the sculpture were made in the mid-nineteenth century for such sites as the Virginia Military Institute and the Capitol in Washington, D.C. From 1910 to 1960, at least twenty bronzes were cast, including this one, which was ordered on May 13, 1932 by the New York State Commission for the celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the birth of George Washington. The finished bronze was originally to be erected in Academy Park, Albany, but for unknown reasons, the site was changed. The sculpture was unveiled in West Capitol Park on Armistice Day, November 11, 1932.
1 H.H. Aronson, “Benjamin Franklin", Metamorphoses in Nineteenth-Century Sculpture. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975), p. 62.