George Washington


Jean-Antoine Houdon ( French, 1741 - 1828 )

c. 1786
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General Description

This is one of two known versions of an undraped portrait bust of George Washington by the great French neoclassical sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. At the request of then French ambassador Thomas Jefferson for a full-length statue of Washington, Houdon journeyed in October 1785 from Paris to Mount Vernon, where he spent two weeks with the president and produced a plaster life mask. That life mask was used to create this portrait bust, as well as the model for the full-length statue of Washington now in the State Capitol in Richmond. This work recalls classical portrait busts, which Houdon knew from studies in Rome. He had adapted them to dazzling effect at the Paris Salons with portraits of great cultural and historical figures of France.

Excerpt from

William Keyse Rudolph , DMA Label copy, 2006.

Fun Facts

  • The paperwork accompanying this donation includes the 1915 U.S. Customs import label for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition as well as the number assigned to the sculpture for display in the Exposition.

Web Resources

  • George Washington Life Mask
    Get a closer look at Houdon's original plaster cast of George Washington's face through this interactive display at The Morgan Library & Museum's website.

  • Rediscovering an American Icon
    Learn more about Houdon's statue of George Washington through this article on the Colonial Williamsburg Official History & Citizenship Site.