Coming this fall to New York City: A ripped, naked George Washington.
The New York Times reports on an exhibition coming to the Frick Collection next year, featuring the work of Italian sculptor Antonio Canova. Specifically, it will be dedicated to a sculpture he did of the first American president, composing his farewell speech while decked out like a Roman soldier, made for the North Carolina’s General Assembly and installed in 1821. (It was destroyed in an 1831 fire.) The exhibit will include a 30-inch plaster model Canova made as a sort of preliminary sketch, of a naked Washington letting it all hang out.
As a preliminary piece, the naked Washington never left Canova’s studio in Italy. Mr. Salomon said North Carolinians almost certainly had not known about it, even though artists often did naked versions of their subjects — in effect, sketches in plaster — as they thought through the process of turning cold, hard stone into hair, skin and soft-looking fabric.
“It is one of the four preliminary models, part of the preparatory work,” Mr. Salomon said, and it was practical, not prurient. “He always did a nude model of his sculptures so he could understand how the body worked under the drapery,” he said. “Absolutely standard practice. He would start with rough drawings and then move to three-dimensional plaster models such as this one.”
George Washington did not model for the statue. Sorry.
While America isn’t used to seeing its first president ass-out naked, Washington’s abdominals—well, rendered with some artistic license—have caused a stir before. Horatio Greenough was commissioned to do a piece for the Capitol Rotunda and also opted for a classical theme, featuring a bare-chested Washington sort of loosely covered in some drapery. When it arrived in DC in 1841, people thought it looked scandalous and/or just plain ridiculous. WETA’s blog Boundary Stones recounts:
Well, maybe not everyone, but a general hue and cry went out about the way that the man who was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the heart’s of his countrymen,” was depicted. People were scandalized, offended, and downright angry that Washington had been sculpted in such scant clothing. Some joked that it looked like he had just come out of a bath and was reaching for his towel, or that he was reaching for his clothes, which were on display at the Patent Office down the street.
Naked George makes his American debut May 2018.