Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Canova's GEORGE WASHINGTON at The Frick; Review By Polly Guerin

George Washington in Marble: By the time it was decided in 1816 to create a statue of George Washington, the first president of the United States and American Revolutionary War hero, the president had been dead for sixteen years. To accurately depict the features of the past president was at the core of the problem. Such was the dilemma of the General Assembly of North Carolina
who wanted to  commission a full-length statue of George Washington be commissioned to stand in the rotunda of the State Capitol, in Raleigh. Thomas Jefferson, by then a former president, suggested Antonio Canova, one of the most famous sculptors in Europe.
       The Frick Collection unravels this intriguing story in an exhibit CANOVA'S GEORGE WASHINGTON that addresses Canova's only work for the United States on view  May 23 to
September 23, 2018.  
Image: Antonio Canova, Modello for George Washington, 1818, Plaster, Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova, Possagno Fondazione Canova onlus, Possagno; photo
Fabio Zonta.
Antonio Canova Modello for George Washington 1818
       The undaunted task of replicating a true likeness of Washington involved several artists. Of the available models to use to reproduce Washington's features, it seemed that a painting, possibly one by Gilbert Stuart, would be most suitable.
       In the end, however, a sculptural model was preferred. Only two sculptures of Washington had been created from life: one in 1785 y Jean-Antoine Houdon and the other in 1791 by Giuseppe Ceracchi.  They are both shown together in this exhibition.
GIUSEPPE CERACCHI Deserves due credit. Ceracchi, an Italian sculptor, had visited the United States on two occasions, in 1790-1790 and again in
1794-1795, and had portrayed a number of American figures, including the president. 
      Conrad Appleton, American Counsel in Livorno and Thomas Jefferson agreed that the Ceracchi, of which Appleton happened to own a plaster bust, was "the best effigy of George Washington ever executed."
       Side note: Ceracchi life was cut short; he was condemmed for conspiring against Napoleon, in Paris and was guillotined in 1802. However, his bust of Washington, hugely popular and widely reproduced---was sent by Appleton to ANTONIO CANOVA and faithfully followed by the sculptor. Image: Giuseppe Ceracchi's George Washington, ca. 1791-92, Terracotta,
Nantes Metropole, Musee d'arts (c) Nantes Metropole-Musee d'arts de Nantes. Photographie: C.CLOS.
Giuseppe Ceracchi's Terracotta Image
       The Frick Collection presents Canova's George Washington, in an exhibition that examines the history of the artist's lost masterpiece. The show brings together for the first time all of the objects connected to the creation of the sculpture---including a remarkable life-sized modello that has r before left Italy---and tells the extraordinary transatlantic story of this monumental work. 
ANTONIO CANOVA The sculptor worked on the statue of Washington in Rome between 1817 and 1820. He began work in the summer of 1817, producing a number of drawings and three-dimensional sketches in preparation for the life-size modello which occupies center stage in the Museum's Oval Room. 
         Once he had produced a final small bozetto, he began creating the life-size model, referencing Ceracchi's terracotta bust for Washington's features.
         It is interesting to note, that while working on the sculpture, Canova, had assistants and his half-brother
read aloud a history of the AMERICAN REVOLUTION. He later wrote, in admiration, of "the immortal Washington---the genius who has performed such sublime dead, for the safety and liberty of his country." Canova had worked on the life-size marble sculpture for four years and in 1821 it was delivered to North Carolina to reside in the State House in Raleigh.  The sculpture was inaugurated with great fanfare on Christmas eve.        
Antonio Canova 
Canova's statue, however, was on view for less than a decade. In the early morning of June 21, 1831, a fire destroyed the Raleigh State House and The monumental statue that had been described as "the boast and pride of North America." Were it not for the "awful calamity," Canova's sculpture would today be one of the most important artistic treasures from the early history of the United States.

       Running concurrently with the Frick exhibition is Canova e la Danza (Canova and Dance) at the Italian Cultural Institute featuring sixteen newly restored tempera paintings dating from 1799 to 1806, which have never before been seen in the United States. A show at the Consulate General of Italy in New York features the work of photographer Fabio Zonta who documented Canova's sculptures at the Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova in Possagno. Both exhibitions will be on view May 23 through June 28, 2018.
Image: Antonio Canova 1819-20  by Sir Thomas Lawrence, oil on canvas. Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova, Possagno Fondazione Canova onlus, Possagno.
TA TA DARLINGS!!! It's a wonder, it's part of early American history and it's worth spending time at the Frick. Accompanying the exhibition is a beautifully illustrated catalogue that examines
the fascinating history of the Canova's lost American masterpiece. the book is available in the Museum Shop. Fan mail welcome at pollytalknyc@gmail.com. Visit Polly's Blogs on fashion,
determined women, visionary men and poetry on www.pollytalk.com and click on the links in the left-hand column.

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