In 1785, world renowned French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon accepted a commission from the Virginia State legislature to create a life-size marble statue of George Washington for the state capitol. During his two-week stay at Mount Vernon that October, Houdon sculpted this bust from locally dug clay and possibly fired it in the kitchen bake oven. Houdon left the bust with Washington and took with him a life mask and detailed physical measurements to complete the final sculpture in France. Washington placed the bust over one of the doors in his Study, where it remained until removed for conservation reasons.

Considered to be the most accurate likeness of George Washington, the bust has remained at Mount Vernon since its creation, one of the few original objects transferred to the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association when the fledgling organization came into possession of the estate in 1860.
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Object Details
Classroom Tips

Date

1785


People


Geography


Material/Technique

Clay


Dimensions

Height of bust only: 17 1/2 inHeight of bust plus base: 22 1/2 inWidth: 13 in at widest pointDepth: 9 1/8 inBase: 5


Credit

Transferred to the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association through the generosity of John Augustine Washington III, 1860


Object Number

W-369


Colors


Classroom Tips

  • Ask students to write a backstory for Washington’s expression on the Houdon bust based on their knowledge of George Washington and America around 1785. Instruct students to imagine they are Washington at this time period. What would Washington be thinking? What issues were significant during the few years leading up to the presidency?
  • Sculptural busts are often created to remember political figures and important people in history. Ask students to research other sculptures of historical figures (busts or full figures) to further examine how we commemorate people from the past. Important questions to ask students to include are: When was the sculpture created? Why was it created or commissioned? Where was it placed? Was it moved or removed recently? Do people visit it?After Houdon created the portrait bust of Washington, he sculpted a full-length marble statue of Washington for the Virginia State Capitol. Ask students to examine both the bust and the statue to compare and contrast. Why did Houdon create the clay bust first? Why did he not use marble on both pieces?

  • Ask students to draw a bust of themselves. Instruct them to take into consideration how they want to represent themselves and what features are important for them to include.

Classroom Materials are ZIP files that include, when available: object images (JPEGS) and teaching tips for the classroom. These materials are for educational uses only.

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Mount Vernon's object research is ongoing and information about this object is subject to change. For information on image use and reproductions, click here.
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