Canova’s George Washington at The Frick

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Sculptor Antonio Canova’s 1818 plaster model for a sculpture of George Washington will be seen outside of Italy for the first time in the Frick Collection’s ‘Canova’s George Washington.’ PHOTO: FABIO ZONTA

The Frick Museum has a wonderful exhibition, Canova’s George Washington.  In 1816 the General Assembly of North Carolina commissioned a full-length statue of George Washington for the State House in Raleigh.Thomas Jefferson, believing that no American sculptor was up to the challenge, recommended Antonio Canova, at the time one of Europe’s most celebrated artists.  The statue depicted Washington garbed in ancient Roman dress (as per Jefferson’s urging), drafting his farewell address.  It was unveiled to great acclaim in 1821 and people traveled from far and wide to see it.  But only a decade later a fire swept through the State House, destroying the marble statue.

Canova’s George Washington examines the history of the artist’s lost masterpiece, probably the least well-known of his public monuments.

It brings together for the first time Canova’s full-sized plaster model (which has never before left Italy), four preparatory sketches, and related engravings and drawings.  The exhibition also includes Thomas Lawrence’s 1816 oil portrait of Canova, which, like the plaster and several sketches, is on loan from the Museo Antonio Canova in Possagno, Italy, the birthplace of the artist.  Washington had died by the time the statue was unveiled but he was an object of great respect in Europe  because Europeans, accustomed to popes, emperors and kings never leaving office were in disbelief when Washington retired peacefully to his farm. Get the details.

Miriam Silverberg is a freelance journalist and owner of Miriam Silverberg Associates, a boutique publicity firm in Manhattan.  She may be reached at


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