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George Washington

This beautiful bronze statue of George Washington, a domineering feature in the main rotunda of Alumni Hall, was cast by William James Hubard in 1853. It is one of six castings from the original Carrara marble statue of Washington carved from 1788-1792 by French Neo-Classical sculptor, Jean-Antoine Houdon. The statue was a gift from Samuel Spahr Laws, class of 1848; “employer of Thomas A. Edison, inventor of the stock market ticker, minister, lawyer, physician, financier, vice president and manager of the New York Gold Exchange, and college president of University of Missouri. Samuel was named as one of the most famed graduates of Miami University, and his worldly impact is to never be forgotten on Miami’s grounds through the dedication of Laws Hall [which was completed in September of 1959]” (Laws Hall (Miami University).

 

“After the successful conclusion of the American Revolutionary War, many state governments turned to public art to commemorate this momentous occasion. Given his critical role both in Virginia and the colonial cause, the Virginia General Assembly desired a statue of George Washington for display in a public space” (Zygmont, “Houdon”). At the time, Houdon started gaining admirers for his new development and ideas of the French Neo-Classical style from a few important Americans residing in Paris; Benjamin Franklin, whose portrait he modeled in 1778 and Thomas Jefferson, in 1789. “At Jefferson’s recommendation, Houdon would travel to Virginia in 1785 to model Washington’s portrait and the full-scale figure, which is now located in the State Capitol Building in Richmond, Virginia” (Hecht, “Jean Antoine Houdon”). It was the commission of this Washington monument, which launched a new period for Houdon’s art work and brought him particular fame in the United States (Hecht, “Jean Antoine Houdon”). Over time, this statue of George Washington has become one of the most recognized and copied representations of the first president of the United States. “Houdon not only perfectly captured Washington’s likeness—John Marshal, the second Chief Justice of the Supreme Court later wrote, ‘Nothing in bronze or stone could be a more perfect image than this statue of the living Washington’” (Zygmont, “Houdon”). Washington is posed standing up with his head slightly glanced to his left. “His left arm—bent at the elbow—rests atop a fasces, a bundle of thirteen rods that symbolizes not only the power of a ruler but also the strength found through unity [of the 13 North American colonies]” (Zygmont, “Houdon”).

 

By the 19th century, various bronze and plaster copies of the statue were created using molds often made directly from the original. “Following the destruction of a statue of Washington by Antonio Canova when the North Carolina State Capitol burned in 1831, there was a fear that a similar fate might befall Houdon's statue. During the 1850s, the Virginia General Assembly authorized the casting of 11 bronze copies of the monument” (“George Washington (Houdon)). Six of which were cast by an English artist, William James Hubard, who was living in Richmond. One of which was gifted and installed to the university in 1920. George Washington is located in the center of a "two-story octagonal rotunda capped by a dome on arched pendentives. The space has glazed brick and terra cotta walls [with] a marble floor” (Miami University Archives), which helps to accent its placement and lead the viewers eyes to the Work.

 

Known casts from the Hubard foundry are located at:

Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia, unveiled in 1856. After the occupation of Lexington in the American Civil War, it was temporarily relocated to Wheeling, West Virginia, and returned in 1866. Rotunda of Alumni Hall at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. North Carolina State Capitol, in 1857. It was the first monument placed on the new capitol's grounds, designed to replace the destroyed Canova statue. South Carolina State House grounds in Columbia, South Carolina, 1853, and installed in 1858. Another traveled around a bit, finally finding a home in Lafayette Park, St. Louis, Missouri in 1914. New York City Hall, New York City, cast 1857, purchased 1884.