Houdon Washington Life Mask
George Washington’s life mask was made in 1785 by French sculptor Jean Antoine Houdon when Washington was fifty-three. In commenting to a friend, Houdon said he had no idea of “the majesty and grandeur of Washington’s form and features” until he studied him as a subject.
The life mask shows Washington as he really appeared in life….without the personal and, often, subjective interpretations of the many artists, painters and sculptors who came to sketch, paint and model his countenance.
When Washington returned to Mount Vernon after the War, he was one of the most famous men in the world. His newly-won celebrity status brought him a steady pilgrimage of visiting foreigners, Americans, historians and innumerable artists, all of whom consumed many hours of his time.
In a letter to Francis Hopkinson in 1785, the year his life mask was made, Washington wrote: “I am so hackneyed to the touches of painters’ pencils that I am now altogether at their beck, and sit ‘like patience on a monument,’ whilst they are delineating the lines of my face. It is a proof, among many others, of what habit and custom can accomplish.”
It has been the good fortune of generations of ever since that Washington had the patience to allow Antoine Houdon to create an important artifact as part of our national heritage.
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