LOCATION: Capitol Square, northwest corner on axis with Grace Street extended. [slideshow]
ARTIST: Thomas Crawford, completed by Randolph Rogers.
DESCRIPTION: A commanding equestrian figure of George Washington, 20 foot high mounted on a 40 foot high granite pedestal. The pedestal is surrounded by six 12 foot high bronze standing figures of John Marshall, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, George Mason, Thomas Nelson, and Andrew Lewis. Sitting out from the main grouping are six allegorical figures, each on their own pedestal. These figures represent Independence, Revolution, Bill of Rights, Justice, Finance, and Colonial Times. A cast iron fence surrounds the entire statue edifice.
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I’m fond of statues and honoring our historic heroes, but I wouldn’t call myself an expert on the quality or composition of sculpture art. I’ve always liked the George Washington equestrian statue at Capitol Square. It is majestic and striking — and also more than 140 years old.
The image of Washington on his horse is not the way I picture him in my imagination, but it will do. If you want the more subdued and presidential version, go inside the Rotunda in the Capitol. It’s good to have options.
The equestrian statue has had its critics over the years. An excerpt from the Richmond Times-Dispatch on artwork at the Virginia State Capitol:
The Washington equestrian by Thomas Crawford may be the central piece of the outdoor collection, but it has come under the most vicious attacks.
Novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, writing in his Italian notebooks, gave a detailed description of this “very foolish and illogical piece of work — Washington mounted on a very uneasy steed, on a very narrow space, aloft in the air, when a single step of the horse backward, forward or on either side, must precipitate him; and several of his contemporaries standing beneath him, not looking up to wonder at his predicament, but each intent on manifesting his own personality to the world around.”
In his “History of American Sculpture” for the National Sculpture Society, Lorado Taft found the work “so bad … that the approaching traveller can scarcely trust his eyes.”
He thought the horse looked like pasteboard being blown from its moorings, concluding that “there may be worse horses in American sculpture; there is certainly none more amusing.”
Taft also commented on the grave welts and sags captured by Joel Hart in the marble of Henry Clay, but what drew his attention was the face. “There is no getting away from the admirably ugly head,” he wrote.