Canova’s George Washington at The Frick Collection, May 23 – September 23, 2018

“In 1816, the General Assembly of North Carolina commissioned a full-length statue of George Washington to stand in the rotunda of the State Capitol, in Raleigh. Thomas Jefferson, believing that no American sculptor was up to the task, recommended Antonio Canova (1757– 1822), then one of Europe’s most celebrated artists. The first and only work Canova created for the United States, the statue depicted the nation’s first president in ancient Roman garb—all’antica armor—per Jefferson’s urging, drafting his farewell address to the states. It was unveiled to great acclaim in 1821. Tragically, a decade later, a fire swept through the State Capitol, reducing the statue to a few charred fragments. On May 23, The Frick Collection presents Canova’s George Washington, an exhibition that examines the history of the artist’s lost masterpiece. The show brings together for the first time all of the objects connected to the creation of the sculpture—including a remarkable life-sized modello that has never before left Italy—and tells the extraordinary transatlantic story of this monumental work. — The Frick Collection

Antonio Canova. Modello for George Washington, 1818. Plaster, 66 9/16 × 39 3/8 × 54 3/4 inches. Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova, Possagno. Fondazione Canova onlus, Possagno; photo Fabio Zonta

Antonio Canova. Primo Pensiero for George Washington, 1817. Terracotta, 13 3/8 × 11 7/16 × 8 1/16 inches. Museo di Roma, Roma © Roma – Sovrintendenza Capitolina ai Beni Culturali – Museo di Roma; Photo: Mauro Magliani

Antonio Canova. Bozzetto for George Washington, 1817. Plaster, 20 1/16 × 9 1/16 × 17 11/16 inches. Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova, Possagno. Fondazione Canova onlus, Possagno; photo Fabio Zonta

Antonio Canova. Bozzetto for George Washington, 1817. Plaster, 31 1/2 × 18 1/8 × 26 3/4 inches. Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova, Possagno. Fondazione Canova onlus, Possagno; photo Fabio Zonta

Antonio Canova. Bozzetto for George Washington, 1817. Plaster, 31 1/2 × 18 1/8 × 25 9/16 inches. Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova, Possagno. Fondazione Canova onlus, Possagno; photo Fabio Zonta

Antonio Canova. Study for George Washington, 1817. Graphite on paper, 3 1/8 × 3 15/16 inches. Bassano del Grappa, Museo Civico. Su gentile concessione MBA Musei Biblioteca Archivio di Bassano del Grappa

Antonio Canova. George Washington, 1818. Plaster, 27 9/16 × 18 1/8 × 14 9/16 inches. Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova, Possagno. Fondazione Canova onlus, Possagno; photo Fabio Zonta

Sir Thomas Lawrence. Antonio Canova, 1815–19. Oil on canvas, 35 7/16 × 28 3/8 inches. Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova, Possagno. Fondazione Canova onlus, Possagno

Gilbert Stuart. George Washington, 1795. Oil on canvas, 29 1/4 x 24 inches. The Frick Collection, New York. Photo: Michael Bodycomb

Giuseppe Ceracchi. George Washington, ca. 1791–92. Terracotta, 29 1/2 × 14 3/16 × 20 7/8 inches. Nantes Métropole, Musée d’arts © Nantes Métropole – Musée d’arts de Nantes – Photographie: C. CLOS

Giuseppe Ceracchi. George Washington, ca. 1792. Marble, 23 7/8 × 20 inches. On loan from the Carolina Art Association/Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina. Image courtesy of the Gibbes Museum of Art/Carolina Art Association

Giovanni Tognoli and Angelo Bertini, after Antonio Canova. George Washington, 1819. Etching and engraving, 17 13/16 × 12 13/16 inches. Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova, Possagno. Fondazione Canova onlus, Possagno

Giovanni Tognoli and Domenico Marchetti, after Antonio Canova. George Washington, 1819. Etching and engraving, 17 13/16 × 12 13/16 inches. Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova, Possagno. Fondazione Canova onlus, Possagno

Jean-Antoine Houdon. Life Mask of George Washington, 1785. Plaster, h. 12 1/2 inches. The Morgan Library & Museum, Gift of J. P. Morgan, Jr., 1924. The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York

Albert Newsam, after Joseph Weisman and Emanuel Leutze. The Marquis de Lafayette Visiting the State Capitol in Raleigh in March 1825, 1840s. Lithograph. Framed: 34 1/2 × 28 1/2 × 1 inches. The North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, N.C. Courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of History

Antonio Canova. Fragment of George Washington (base and signature), 1818–20. Marble, 16 1/2 × 25 × 4 3/4 inches. The North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, N.C. Courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of History

The exhibition is organized by Xavier F. Salomon, The Frick Collection’s Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator, in collaboration with Mario Guderzo, Director of the Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova, the Venice International Foundation, and Friends of Venice Italy Inc. Following its presentation at the Frick, the exhibition will be shown in Possagno, Italy, at the Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova, in the fall of 2018. 

Images courtesy The Frick Collection.