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George Washington, 1827–28

George Washington, 1827–28

Horatio Greenough (1805 – 1852)

Horatio Greenough, described as the “first American to make sculpture his exclusive profession” (Tolles, 3) was born in Boston. He was one of the earliest American artists to receive a national commission. Urged by his wealthy family and by the painter Washington Allston to study art, Greenough, after graduation from Harvard, went to Italy in 1825 for two years. He made a second trip in 1828, and this time remained until a year before his death.

Greenough is best known for his toga and sandal-clad statue of George Washington, inspired by the statue of Zeus at Olympia by the ancient Greek sculptor Phidias.

Commissioned by Congress in 1832, the Washington sculpture was designed to stand in the rotunda of the United States Capitol, but depicting a national hero in semi-nudity aroused such controversy that the statue was removed to the Smithsonian Institution. While working in Washington D.C., Greenough was friends with the portraitist Charles Bird King, who often acted as host and doyen to visiting artists such as Greenough and Thomas Sully, providing them with living and studio room, and furnishing them with introductions to Washington society.

Greenough’s importance in the 20th century largely rests upon his few brief essays on art in which he outlined the functional relationship between architecture and decoration. These theories were influential in the development of functionalism in modern architecture. Originally entitled The Travels, Observations, and Experience of a Yankee Stonecutter (1852), these essays were re-issued in 1947 under the title Form and Function. Horatio’s younger brother, Richard Saltonstall Greenough (1819-1904), was also a sculptor. His most famous work is a statue of Benjamin Franklin in front of Boston City Hall.

Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Thayer Tolles, Editor, American Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Biography from the Archives of AskART