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Men on horseback. A paper on the equestrian statuary in Washington online

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Men on Horseback."



Copyrighted, 1902,
By S. H. Kadffmann,



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"MEN ON HORSEBACK."



A PAPER ON THE EQUESTRIAN STATUARY
IN WASHINGTON.



READ BEFORE THE COLUMBIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY,
WASHINGTON, D. C, BY MR. S.^k'KAUFFMANN, ON
MONDAY EVENING, MARCH 11, l'901.



Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen :

In compliance with the request of your committee, it was
the original expectation that there should be presented this
evening some account of Equestrian Statuary in the United
States. It may be questioned whether or not a paper so com-
prehensive in its scope as that, and covering so wide an expanse
of territory, would come strictly within the purview of a
Society presumed to be rather local in its researches and
general range ; but, quite aside from that consideration, it
soon became apparent that to do so large a subject even scant
justice in a single paper, to be read in one evening, would be
too great a tax upon the patience, if not upon the physical
endurance, of any audience. Accordingly, the observations
offered at this time will be restricted to the monumental



V/rti-Uy






^\



structures of the class referred to which have been set up
within the limits of the National Capital — with, however, some
preliminary reference to two examples in other localities,
introduced for the purpose of establishing the historical
sequence, or rather, perhaps, the order of precedence, in works
of that class on the western hemisphere, and which, it is hoped,
may be excused for that reason.






The first monument of this order put up and now existing
within the limits of the United States — though not the first
erected on this continent — was unveiled and still stands in this
city. But the one yet existing which antedates this one was set
up in a neighboring country, and in honor of a European
monarch who did absolutely nothing to deserv^e such great
distinction. It is an effigy, almost colossal in size, represent-
ing Charles IV of Spain, standing in the City of Mexico.
This group was modeled by a citizen of that city (though
born in Spain) , Don Manuel Tolsa, by name, and was cast in
bronze in a single piece, by another resident Mexican, Don
Salvador de la Vega. The date of its inauguration was the
9th day of December, 1803, when, after many vicissitudes of
fortune, which well nigh resulted in its complete destruction,
it was unveiled with great ceremony.

Yet even that early example had a predecessor of its class
on this side of the Atlantic, although the pioneer group no
longer exists. This, the first Equestrian Statue ever set up
within the territory now included in the United States, or
indeed anywhere on the western hemisphere, was one of
George III of England, which formerly stood in the reserva-



tion called Bowling Green, near what was then known as Fort
George, at the foot of Broadway, in the city of New York,
There it was dedicated with suitable ceremony on the 21st day
of August, 1770 — that date having been chosen, it was stated,
because it was the birthday of his majesty's father, Frederick,
Prince of Wales.

A chronicler of the times gives a rather quaint account of
the inaugural proceedings attending the unveiling of this
statue, in the following words :

" On this occasion the members of his Majesty's Council, the City
Corporation, the Corporation of the Chamber of Commerce, the Corpora-
tion of the Marine Society, and most of the gentlemen of the City and
Arm}' waited on his Honor, the Lieutenant Governor Colden, in the
Fort, at his request ; where his Majesty's and other loyal healths were
drunk under a discharge of thirty-two pieces of cannon, from the Battery,
accompanied by a band of music."

Another writer of the period records the fact that this
was the first Equestrian Statue ever made of his Majesty, the
Third George, and adds that it was "the workmanship of
that celebrated statuary, Mr. Wilton of London."

This group was composed of lead, but was said to have
been so richly gilded as to present somewhat the appearance
of gold. An old print of the statue, in my possession, shows
the king clothed in his royal robes, wearing his crown, and
seated upon a rather clumsy-looking charger, which is repre-
sented in the act of rearing — the equipoise of the group being
maintained by the long tail of the horse, which rested firmly
on the pedestal.

The statue stood in its appointed place for nearly six
years, or until the 9th day of July, 1776, when it was destroyed
by the soldiers and patriotic populace of the city. The group
had probably been subjected to some indignities before that



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time, for we find that on the 6th of February, 1773, there was
passed an act entitled "An act to prevent the defacing of
statues which are erected in the City of New York." But,
however that may be, the effigy in question met its dramatic
fate as above stated shortly after the signing of the Declaration
of Independence, and in recognition of that momentous event.
In regard to this affair the Father of our Country appears
to have entertained a view which somewhat reminds one of
that held by the New England gentleman who declared him-
self ' ' in favor of the Maine liquor law, but opposed to its en-
forcement," for Washington, while undoubtedly favoring the
outcome of the iconoclastic demonstration, thought proper to
place himself officially on record as objecting to the precise
method or agency emploj^ed to secure the end in view. In
the book of general orders issued by the commander-in-chief,
one under date of July 10, 1776, appears, in which the follow-
ing diplomatically worded approbatory censure was pro-
mulgated. It reads :

" Though the General doubts not the persons who pulled down and
mutilated in Broadway the statue of King George, last night, acted in
the public cause, yet it has so much the appearance of riot and want of
order in the army that he disapproves of the manner, and directs that in
future these things shall be avoided by the army and left to be executed
by the proper authority,"

It is related by historians of the period that the stone
pedestal of this statue stood in its place for several years after-
ward, and the iron fence which surrounded the group still
stands, it is said, though somewhat mutilated ; but the royal
rider and his prancing steed were promptly chopped into
pieces. These separated parts were, however, not allowed to
go to waste, so to speak. On the other hand, they were care-



full}' gathered up and shipped to Litchfield, Connecticut, then
a continental military depot of considerable importance, where
they were cast into bullets by the patriotic women of the town,
to be effectually fired later on at his majesty's troops.

Those fond of statistical details may be interested in knowing
that the official reports show the output from this unexpected
but timely supply of metal to have been exactly 42,088 ball
cartridges.

But to come back to the Federal city :

With rare exceptions — indeed with a single exception,* it
may be said — Equestrian Statues have never been erected in
any country save in honor of so-called royal personages, or
those who were either actual or titular commanders of troops
in the field. Indeed, in art, the " Man on Horseback " seems
to be regarded always and everywhere as sjanbolizing either
the ro3^al ruler or the actual commander. Happily with the
exception of the one referred to above, and no longer in exist-
ence, all the equestrian groups set up in this country in honor
of its own favorites belong only to the latter class ; and, as will
readily be inferred, the subjects thus portrayed, as well in
Washington as in other cities of the country, have been
furnished by the first four wars in which, as a nation, we have
been engaged — namely, the revolutionary war ; that of 181 2,
as it is familiarly styled ; the Mexican war, and the late civil
war. Taking these epochs in their order, it will be seen that
we have now in place in the National Capital two heroes of the
first war — Washington and Greene ; one of the second —
Jackson ; one of the third — Scott ; and three of the fourth, in
Thomas, McPherson and Hancock.



* That of the painter Velasquez, in Paris.



10

Naturally it would be expected that the heroes of our
earliest war should be the first to be thus honored. But, as a
matter of fact, it was not so. The first Equestrian Statue to
be executed and set up in the United States (after the George
III already mentioned) was the bronze group of General
Jackson,* the hero of the war of 1812, which stands in
Lafayette Square, in this city. It was modeled and cast from
cannon captured in Jackson's campaigns by the late Clark
Mills, and was inaugurated with imposing ceremonies on the
8th day of January, 1853 — that day being the thirty-eighth
anniversary of the old hero's victory at New Orleans. The
orator on the occasion was the late Hon. Stephen A. Douglas,
then a member of the United States Senate, representing the
State of Illinois, and the prayer was offered by Rev. Dr. Butler
of this city.

In this connection it may be mentioned that the statement
has more than once been made that the Equestrian Statue of
Washington, by Henry K. Brown, which stands in Union
Square, New York, was really executed at an earlier period
than the Jackson, though formally inaugurated at a later date.
This claim is, however, not well founded. The facts in the
case are that the Jackson was completed and set up, as already
stated, in January, 1853, whereas work on the Washington
was only begun late in the year 1852, and the statue was not
finished and unveiled until the 4th of July, 1856, or more than
three years after the inauguration of the Jackson.

It is worth noting here, in passing, that Mr. Mills had
showm so much promise as a sculptor in the city of Charleston,
where he then resided, that a number of persons in that place

* Andrew Jackson: Born, Waxhaw Settlement, Carolinas, March 15, 1767: Died,
Nashville, Tenn., Juue 8, 1845.



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had contributed a purse to enable him to go to Europe, to
prosecute his studies as an artist ; and he was in Washington,
on his way abroad for this purpose, when some friends here
persuaded him to forego his visit and undertake this work.
This he finally concluded to do.

The commission was consequently awarded him, in due
course, by the Jackson Democratic Association of this city,
under whose auspices the statue was erected, and the agree-
ment was fulfilled by Mr. Mills accordingly. Subsequently,
however, it was shown that ^12,000, the stipulated amount to
be paid him, did not cover the artist's outlays in money, much
less compensate him for the time and skill he had devoted to
the work, and Congress later on appropriated the sum of
$20,000 additional. One-half of this latter amount was paid
directl}^ to Mr. Mills, and the other moiety was to be invested
for the benefit of his family ; but whether that intention was
carried out or not appears to be a matter of some doubt.

Few things are easier to do or more commonly done than
finding fault ; and it has been considered quite the thing to
harshly criticise this work. Indeed, it has been the habit of
some would-be wits to allude to it as being pretty much every-
thing that a work of art should not be. But notwithstanding
all adverse opinions, the group is yet not without considerable
merit. Unfortunately it lacks the size necessary to give it due
impressiveness ; but not a few admirers and excellent judges
of the horse have maintained that the noble animal is ad-
mirably represented in this group. To use the sculptor's own
language, as once expressed in the hearing of the writer, he
claimed to ' ' know as much about the anatomy and muscular
action of a horse as any man living, ' ' and he added that the
steed in this group was modeled, prancing attitude and all,



12

directly from nature, as he had taught the horse to rear and
remain in that position for some time. As to the rider, I
beheve it was conceded b}'' those who remembered the old hero
that the likeness of Jackson is both faithful and spirited.
Tested, however, by the recognized canons of art, it can hardly
be claimed seriously that this group will take high rank with
works of its class. One conspicuous defect lies in the fact
alluded to above, that it lacks sufficient size to give it dignity
and impressiveness, and it is furthermore too small for its im-
posing surroundings. Yet if it be admitted that it fails to be
satisfactory as a whole, there remain some pregnant facts in
connection with it that should be borne in mind. It ought to
be remembered, to his great credit, that Mr. Mills was a
wholly self-taught artist, having originally been a plasterer by
trade ; that up to the time he executed this group he had
never seen an Equestrian Statue ; that both its conception and
the task of modeling it were solely his own work ; and that,
finally, the difficult task of casting it in bronze was entirely
performed by him — all the ingenious appliances necessary
therefor being of his own invention and construction. It is
doubtful if the history of art in any country presents in all
these respects a parallel to this case.

Of this group, as most of those present are doubtless aware,
two replicas in bronze have been made, one of them standing
in New Orleans, the .scene of Jackson's great military achieve-
ment, the other in Nashville, near where his ashes repose.

The further observation may be allowed in this connection
that Mr. Mills claimed as one of the merits of this statue that
its natural equipoise was absolute — that is, that the center of
gravity had been so attained in the position of the horse and
his rider that the group would rest securely on the hind feet of



13

the rearing charger, without any support or fastening whatever.
This is the fact. It is, however, a fact, also, that when the group
was placed in position in Lafaj^ette Square the hind feet of the
horse were bolted or otherwise fastened to the base or pedestal,
in order to secure it against the possible effects of high winds
or other disturbing or mischievous causes. But that the
group was actually self -poised Mr. Mills used to demonstrate
very conclusively by the exhibition of an exact miniature
reproduction, which was so evenly balanced that it would stand
firmly on a marble slab or other smooth surface, and equally
so with or without the rider in his place.

Mr. Mills' claim as to the self-sustaining equilibrium of the
group must therefore be regarded as well founded. Not so,
however, his other claim, that this was the first Equestrian
Statue ever erected possessing that peculiar property. A
mounted effigy of Philip IV of Spain, marked by the same
characteristics, was erected in Madrid about the middle of the
seventeenth century, and still stands in one of the fine squares
of that city. History, by the way, records the interesting
facts that the horse of that group was modeled by the Italian
sculptor, Tacca, from drawings made by the great Spanish
painter, Velasquez, and that Galileo utilized his scientific
knowledge in giving it the proper balance by finding and
pointing out to the sculptor the center of gravity.

There must also have been another earlier statue of the
same class, for I have in my possession an old engraving of a
self-balanced Equestrian Statue of James II of England, in
Newcastle-on-Tyne, said to have been composed of copper,
which was destroyed in 1689. Nevertheless, it is fair and
reasonable to suppose, notwithstanding all allegations and
insinuations to the contrary, that these facts were unknown to



14

Mr. Mills, and that the conception as well as the means of
overcoming the many obstacles in his path were entirely
original with him.

* * *

In chronological order, the next Equestrian Statue set up
in this city was that of Washington,* also made by Clark Mills,
which occupies the Circle bearing the Father of his Country's
name, at the crossing of Pennsylvania avenue and K and 23d
streets. This group was appropriatel}^ unveiled on the 226. of
Februar3% i860, with most imposing ceremonies, which were
participated in by an unusually large number of organizations,
both civic and military. Rev. Dr. Nadal of the Foundry Church
implored the blessings of Divine Providence ; the orator of the
occasion was Hon. Thomas S. Bocock, then a representative in
Congress from Virginia ; and the statue was formally dedicated
by President Buchanan. The naval, the marine and regular
army establishments were adequately represented on the
occasion, as were all the militia companies of the District ; and
among the military bodies from other places which came to add
to the impressiveness of the scene were the Alexandria Rifles,
the lyaw Greys of Baltimore, the Charles County Cavalry
Guard from Port Tobacco, the Reed Rifles from Chestertown,
the Baltimore City Guard, and the famous 7th Regiment of
New York.

The incident in Washington's life selected by the artist for
representation in this group occurred at the battle of Princeton,
when, after several ineffectual efforts to rally his troops, the
General advanced so near the British lines that his horse



* George Washington : Born, Westmoreland County, Va., February 32, 1732 : Died,
Mount Vernon, Va., December 14, 1799.



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refused to go further, but stood in terror, while the balls from
the enemy's guns tore up the earth around him. The heroic
rider is, however, shown serene and dignified, as befitted his
character and temperament.

The sculptor's original conception for this monument con-
templated a much more elaborate and pretentious group than
we see. It portrayed Washington as now represented, and it
may fitly be mentioned here that his face was modeled from
the well-known Houdon head ; that the uniform was copied
from one actually worn by him, and that the trappings of the
horse were taken from those represented by Trumbull, the
painter, who had been the General's aid-de-camp. But instead
of the comparatively low and severely plain pedestal upon
which the figure now stands, the artist had contemplated a
massive and richly decorated structure, some thirty feet in
height, divided into three stories, or sections, intended, as he
said, to represent the three great epochs in the history of our
countr3^ The high reliefs on the first or lower section were
to symbolize the country as it appeared when first discovered,
inhabited by Indians ; the second was to represent the dawn
of its civilization ; the third was to tell the story of the great
revolutionary period, with Washington's generals represented
in life size on either side. A life-size equestrian group was also
to stand at each of the four corners of the pedestal, somewhat
after the style of the splendid statue of Frederick the Great in
Berlin, the Maria Theresa in Vienna, and the fine War Monu-
ment in Leipsic. But for want of an adequate appropriation
the ambitious original design was (perhaps fortunately) never
carried out.

In connection with this particular group it may be of interest
to note here the historical fact that the first action ever had



16

looking to an Equestrian Statue in Washington was taken by

the Continental Congress on the 17th of August, 1783, when,

" On motion of Mr. Lee, seconded b}' Mr, Bland, it was resolved
' That an Equestrian Statue of Washington be erected at the place where
the residence of Congress shall be established.' "

Another resolution offered in connection with this provided
that the statue should be of bronze, the General to be repre-
sented in a Roman dress, holding a truncheon in his right
hand, and his head encircled with a laurel wreath. The statue
was to be supported by a marble pedestal, " on which, " it was
provided, " were to be represented in bas-relief the following
principal events in the war in which General Washington
commanded in person, viz : The evacuation of Boston, the
capture of the Hessians at Trenton, the battle of Princeton,
the action of Monmouth, and the surrender of York. On the
upper part of the front of the pedestal was to be engraved
this legend :

" The United States in Congress assembled ordered this statue to be
erected in the year of our Lord 1783, in honor of George Washington, the
illustrious Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States of
America, during the war which vindicated and secured their liberty,
sovereignty and independence."

It was further provided that a statue conformable to the
above plan should be executed by the best artist in Europe,
under the superintendence of the minister of the United States
at the court of Versailles, and that the money to defra}^ the
expense of the same should be furnished from the treasury of the
United States. Further, the secretary of Congress was directed
to transmit to the minister to France the best resemblance of
General Washington that could be procured, together with the
fittest description of the events which were to be the subject
of the bas-reliefs.




v



17

It is needless to add that this elaborate and well-meant
scheme came to naught. Indeed, it does not appear that any-
further action was taken in regard to it or upon the subject to
which it referred until after the death of Washington, when,
on the 19th and 24th of December, 1799, respectively, the two
houses of Congress passed a resolution providing ' ' That a
marble monument be erected by the United States in the
Capitol at the city of Washington ; that the family of General
Washington be requested to permit his bodj^ to be deposited
under it, and that the monument be so designed as to
commemorate the great events of his military and political
life."

Subsequently, on the 8th of May, iSoo, a resolution was
offered in the House of Representatives providing that the
statue contemplated by the act of 1783 should be carried into
immediate execution, and that the group should be placed in
the center of an area formed in front of the Capitol. Another
resolution offered at the same time provided that a marble
monument should be erected by the United States in the
Capitol at the city of Washington in honor of General
Washington, to commemorate his services and to express the
regret of the American people for their irreparable loss. To
carry these resolutions into effect the sum of $100,000 was
proposed. When they came up for final consideration the
first resolution was amended by substituting a mausoleum for
the statue, and the second was rejected. No further action
was taken at that time, but at the next session, in December
and January following, the matter was discussed at length,
and after various amendments had been offered and rejected a
resolution was finally passed by both houses providing for the
proposed mausoleum and appropriating $100,000 for its



18

erection. These resolutions were, however, never carried into
effect, and, as we all know, the remains of the great General
still repose at Mount Vernon. It appears, however, that his
widow gave her consent to the removal of his remains, as
desired. " In doing this," she wrote to the President under
date of January 8, 1800, " I need not, I cannot, say what a
sacrifice of individual feeling I make to a sense of duty."

* * ^k

It does not appear that either the statue of General Scott,*
which stands in Scott Circle, at the intersection of Massachusetts
and Rhode Island avenues and i6th and N streets, northwest, or
that of General Greene, t in Greene Square, at the intersection
of Massachusetts and Maryland avenues and C and 5th streets,
northeast, were inaugurated or unveiled with any formal
ceremonies. Both were executed on a commission from the
United States Government to the distinguished sculptor, Henry
K. Brown ; and, so far as my researches throw any light on
the subject, it would seem that when completed they were
turned over to and accepted by the proper authority or repre-
sentative of the Government, much as a public building or any
other work executed under a Government contract would be —
the first named in 1874, the other in 1877.

Of the statue of Scott it may justly be said that while some
parts of the group are exceedingly fine, it is not as a whole
generally considered entirely happy as a work of art. The
horse, although a most beautifully modeled figure, does not
possess the points usually looked for in a commander's charger,



*WiNFiELD Scott: Born, near Petersburg, Va., June 13, 1786: Died, West Point,
N. Y , May 29, iS65.

+ Nathaniel Greene : Born, Warwick, R. I., June 6, 1742 : Died, Mulberry Grove,


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Online LibrarySamuel Hay KauffmannMen on horseback. A paper on the equestrian statuary in Washington → online text (page 1 of 2)