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Richmond Times-Dispatch                      October 2, 1938



 

 

 

Home    >    Newspaper Articles    >    Statues of Richmond

 

 

 

Statues of Richmond

By Vera Palmer

 

 

Visitors from all parts of the United States; from over the borders, and from across the seas are impressed by the many interesting statues they find in this capital city of the oldest Commonwealth. They are loud in praise of the best and, for the most part, politely silent regarding the others. Richmonders, however, do not feel the necessity of curbing their tongues but think they are free to express opinions of men, horses, symbolic figures and pedestals.

In an effort to ascertain what some of our most capable critics think of various monuments, I questioned several, and learned many interesting and important details heretofore overlooked. My quest led me first to Miss Julia Sully, throughout her life a profound student of the history of art and now director of the Virginia Art Index Division of the State Commission on Conservation and Development. Almost daily she comes across invaluable information regarding art in Virginia, and is making these facts accessible to the public for the first time. They are not dry facts either, but full of romance and often not devoid of a humorous touch.

 


 

Houdon Statue Placed First

In discussing the Richmond statues, Miss Sully gives first place, of course, to the Washington by Houdon, which stands in the rotunda of the Capitol, while General Jeb Stuart, at Monument Avenue and Lombardy Street, is at the bottom of this list in her estimation. She reminded me that the Washington, the most nearly perfect piece of sculpture in America, is slightly heroic, in that the Father of His Country was only 5 feet 10 inches in height, while the marble figure stands 6 feet 3 inches.

It is known far and wide that this is the only statue of Washington modeled from life, but it required this expert to point out that only the head was done from life, and was taken back to France by Houdon himself, while his workmen took over the rest. Gouverneur Morris, then in Paris, who founded our national coinage and originated the word "cent," posed for the figure.

There were two innovations connected with the modelling of this exquisite work. First, the eyes are carved in intaglio, which gives them a life-like vitality, and also Washington is shown wearing the uniform of a general in the Continental Army, the uniform he himself designed, instead of the classic garb of a Roman, then usually employed by sculptors.

Even more recently than the revolutionary period the Roman continued to be regarded as the ideal statesman and defender of his country. Thus his dress survived through many centuries. Arrangements were made with Houdon for the making of the statue by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, both in Paris at the time.

Washington is believed to have greatly feared the taking of the mask because a similar procedure a few years earlier had nearly cost him his life. Another sculptor had endeavored to take one, but after inserting the tubes through which the general was to breathe, he left the room. They somehow became clogged, and if his step-daughter had not come in, and so given the alarm, Washington would have suffocated.

 

 

Houdon's Washington

 

 

The statue was completed and placed in the Capitol in 1796 and remained there until the building was remodelled in 1902. At that time it was taken down and laid in a currugated iron box, which was set at a safe distance in Capitol Square, where it remained until workmen departed. The priceless marble was then replaced, and is now viewed annually by thousands of tourists and occasionally by Richmond people.

All those art lovers whom I interviewed found this beautiful work beyond criticism. Captain William Murray Forbes Bayliss, president of the Richmond Academy of Sciences and Fine Arts, a reserve officer of the British army, regards it as "extraordinarily impressive, a really wonderful thing. But there is something deeply tragic about the face," he declared, "in that it shows what a dreadful strain it must be to reach to so great a height. I do not find evidence of this strain in the portraits, only in the marble, where, to me, it is unmistakable."

Miss Sully told me that she is particularly fond of the statue of Governor Smith, in the Capital Square, and of the Howitzer monument at Park Avenue and Garrison Street. These vital pieces are modelled by W. L. Shepherd, who also did the General A. P. Hill, and the soldiers and sailors monument on Libby Hill. That of Smith, although the work of Shepherd, was cast by F. William Sievers, who did the equestrian Jackson, the Maury and the exquisite plaque to Bishop Asbury, father of Methodism in America. This tablet is on Trinity Methodist Church, Nineteenth and Broad Streets the oldest edifice of that denomination in Richmond where the worthy bishop preached his last sermon. Many persons regard the Asbury tablet one of the most beautiful things Mr. Sievers has done.

Few persons considered the equestrian Washington, by Crawford, the capstone of the group in Capitol Square, as a good statue, but everybody questioned seemed to feel that the complete assemblage is imposing and suitable. William C. Noland, only Richmond member of the Virginia Art Commission, says that whenever he passes the commander-in-chief he is reminded of the criticism made by a country woman from his own nearby county, who on seeing the intrepid rider, exclaimed, "One more lope and that horse would be off his base." Mr. Noland, who is really a tremendous admirer of Richmond's statues, also reminded me of the wag who remarked that Washington was looking at the General Assembly, but pointing toward the penitentiary.

Although she believes the statue is unnatural in posture and generally poor, Miss Sully feels that it has the essentials of an equestrian work, for it stands out against the skyline and has a magnificent approach. Robert Mills, the first professional architect this country produced, did the beautiful base, enriched with the 13 stars and 13 laurel wreaths, indicating the original colonies. Mills, she recalled, who was a pupil of Latrobe, designed the Wickham House, now the Valentine Museum; the Monumental Church, the Archer House on Sixth Street, recently torn down to make way for a public garage, and the Washington obelisk in the nation's capital.

It is worthy of note that Crawford who, by the way, was the father of F. Marion Crawford, the novelist, followed the example set by Houdon in clothing his subject in uniform rather than making him wear the sagum of Hannibal or Mark Anthony. It so happens that Richmond has not a single Roman in bronze, while the City of Washington if full of them. There is, however, a statue of William Pitt, wearing a toga, in a Virginia county courthouse.

Nobody had any particular opinion as to the artistic value of the figures around the dominant Washington, but I have always had a liking for Andrew Lewis, in his frontiersman's dress and holding his coonskin cap. It is said that Lewis just "made the grade," having been chosen a member of the bronze group by only one vote.

 

 

Henry Clay statue before its removal to the Capitol Rotunda

 

 

In commenting on the riding Washington, Captain Bayliss remarked, "I must confess that I have a prejudice against Washington on that prancing horse because it might by anybody. It would do well for Frederick the Great or any other famous general. Similar statues are scattered all over Europe; the same kind of horse with the same prance." But Thomas C. Colt, Curator of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, thinks it represents its period, although not measuring up to the standards of our day, while Mayor J. Fulmer Bright, ex offico guardian of all the Richmond monuments, just would not talk against his neighbor. He does try to set a good example.

Of all those persons questioned, Miss Sully was the only one to speak of the figure of Henry Clay, which stood for many years in the center of a kind of summer-house on the southwest side of Capitol Square, but now occupies a place of honor within the Capitol itself, where rain and snow can do no more damage. This statue of Clay is the work of Joel Hart, of Kentucky, and was ordered by the Whig ladies. Women are praiseworthy producers of memorials, and Richmond has also to thank them for those to General Lee and Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury. But when the time for unveiling comes around the men can be absolutely relied on to step forward and take charge of the program without any sign of hesitation.

Henry Clay had a hard time getting to Virginia, and the first attempt failed utterly. Joel Hart was living in Florence at the time he received the commission, and when the statue was completed it was packed and shipped to this country. But, alas, the boat was wrecked in the Bay of Biscay, and the great statesman, like McGinty, went down to the bottom of the sea dressed in his best suit of clothes.

However, Hart was wise enough to retain the model and another statue was made. There is a replica of this work in Frankfort, Ky. Miss Sully regards this marble as being particularly lovely, and she feels that "in its finely drawn technique there lingers a little of the simplicity and beauty of the Renaissance."

Both this critic and Mr. Noland like the bronze figure of Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire, seated there so naturally, and apparently so comfortably, in his big arm chair, looking south toward the Capitol. They, who knew the great surgeon, will think it a "speaking likeness" and are convinced that the State should be grateful to Cooper, the sculptor, and to the friends of Dr. McGuire, who made it possible.

Only a few steps away is the pedestrian statue of General Stonewall Jackson, given to Virginia by his English admirers, the work of their compatriot, John Foley, R. A. It is worthy of careful study. Miss Sully, Captain Bayliss and Mr. Noland named it as among the particularly good statues in Richmond. Mr. Noland has always been much impressed by the calmness of both the face and figure. "I don't say that it is a great work of art," he told me, "but I am sure it is the Englishman's real impression of General Jackson."

 

 

Jackson's statue in Capitol Square

 

 

The British reserve officer finds the statue of General Lee "extraordinarily impressive." This conclusion, he said, may be a bit psychological, "but while perhaps, it is not actually great, yet it is wonderfully rich in feeling." Mercie, who created it, won the commission through competition. But even after that a great controversy arose, according to Miss Sully, because the French sculptor refused to seat the immortal Southern leader on his beloved Traveler. But Mercie contended that Traveler was far to slender a horse for a heroic statue, so he mounted Lee on a French hunter in whose veins there was a strain of Percheron blood. He refused, also, to allow his subject to wear a hat, a procedure altogether contrary to the best tradition in equestrian sculpture. Mercie, however, was adamant, declaring that a brow so noble must not be hidden. So General Lee is holding his hat in his hand.

Mayor Bright is especially fond of the Lee Statue for its dignity, simplicity and its quietude, but Mr. Nolde would like to find in it even a deeper sense of quiet, although he loves it, both as a Virginian and as an art critic. Mr. Colt thinks it is a very fine work, and he, too, is conscious of its dignity and simplicity, although he considers the base mediocre.

 

 

Statue of Lee which was termed "Extraordinarily impressive".

 

 

In sharp contrast and close proximity to the dignified and symmetrical Lee, stands the impetuous and dashing Jeb Stuart. Any laymen might well wonder, however, if the famous Confederate cavalry leader really could dash on such an ice-wagon steed. The curator of the Virginia Museum described this horse and rider as the poorest in the city "a bit of a civic monstrosity. Everything about it is wrong." Even the Mayor, who is kind to his nonvoting gentlemen in bronze and marble, declared it to be too low and too massive.

 

 

General Stuart's statue at Lombardy and Monument

 

 

The well authenticated story was told me by two of the art lovers who discussed the statue of Moynihan, the sculptor, was a former gravestone cutter who had later become a pupil of Foley, who did the Jackson for the English admirers. Moynihan is said to have found that the modelling of Stuart was far beyond his capabilities, so he took his teacher's model of General Outram, of the British army, now reposing in bronze somewhere in India, put a beard on him; changed his hat, made necessary alterations in his uniform and saddle blanket, and dubbed him General Stuart. Just how, Moynihan came to receive the commission was not revealed. Perhaps that detail has been forgotten. The story is understood to be absolutely true.

Farther west on Monument Avenue is Jefferson Davis, which is generally regarded as much less worthy of Edward V. Valentine, its creator, than his Thomas Jefferson, who keeps guard over the alligators in the palm court of the Jefferson Hotel. Mayor Bright feels that the figure is subordinated by the pedestal and surrounding arc, and that the latter is singularly lacking in grace, beauty and meaning, especially to the observer approaching from the west. But Mr. Noland thinks that the figure is essentially that of a speechmaker, and therefore characteristic of a period notably rich in oratory.

Another critic described the Davis statue as that of a typical auctioneer. Captain Bayliss, too, finds fault with the whole effect, declaring the composition to be tawdry and out of keeping with its environment. In fact, he places it at the bottom of his list and totally unworthy of the sculptor who created the exquisite recumbent Lee, in the chapel of Washington and Lee University at Lexington.

 


 

Many Statues Reviewed

 

Captain Bayliss admires the Maury statue only a little more than he does that of Davis, for his comment was, "if Davis is at the bottom, I put Maury next to it. But here let me add hastily," he said, "that there is nothing in Richmond capable of giving me half the pain inflicted by many of the London statues. Most of them are agonies to behold. Yet I do think that the Maury is too cluttered with a variety of accessories, which cause it to lack the beauty and dignity of the equestrian Jackson or the Lee. It is too fussy."

Mr. Colt does not agree. This bronze of the Pathfinder of the Seas in its conception is unlike anything else in Richmond in his opinion. He sees in it an intellectual impression more than a realistic interpretation of the figure and face, and therefore regards it with unusual interest. The Mayor, on the other hand, thinks that , like Davis, the pedestal and surroundings subordinate the main idea, while Mr. Noland sees in Siever's Maury the thinker that he surely was.

General Hill, out on the Hermitage Road, has warm friends for the most part, although there are a few persons who see little beauty in the figure of the distinguished infantry officer, while a few of those questioned had forgotten he was there. The Richmond member of the Virginia Art Commission said that the statue had never appealed to him, but that he had nothing definite against it, while on the very same day Captain Bayliss was warm in his praise.

This Englishman, who is half Virginian, remarked that Hill is a favorite of his. "It is good, simple and appropriate for a great infantry leader. True, it is not quite big enough and the pedestal is a bit too big, which makes the whole effect a little bottom heavy. Perhaps, I am prejudiced in its favor as my grandfather was a staff captain under General Hill.

Stonewall Jackson, at the intersection of the Boulevard and Monument Avenue, who sits not on Little Sorrel, but on another horse named Superior, is warmly admired by Miss Julia Sully, who thinks it a chaste and beautiful work, "although the pedestal is too static for my taste." Miss Sully told me that the head was made from the death mask taken by the sculptor, Frederick Volk, and is now in the Valentine Museum. Mr. Colt, too, is a great admirer of this Jackson, which he regards as the best statue done by Sievers. It is a very nice thing," he said. Captain Bayliss, too, finds it simple, plain and impressive, but not comparable to the Lee.

Miss Sully was the only commentator who had a word to say about the statue of Christopher Columbus, which stands at the south end of the Boulevard, at the entrance to Byrd Park. There are many people in Richmond who will recall that when the statue was placed there was considerable objection in some quarters on the ground that Columbus was "a foreigner." Richmond was unusually nationalistic just then.

It is the work of Lagniola, local sculptor, and was erected by the Italians of Richmond. Miss Sully finds this statue particularly lovely, but she regrets that the pedestal is much too low. The sculptor told her that he had found two places in this city where good pliant modelling clay was to be had.

 


 

Alexander Galt's Death Recalled

 

This art lover called my attention to a Virginia sculptor of extraordinary promise, but whose early death from smallpox cut short what might well have been a brilliant career. He was Alexander Galt, of Norfolk, whose sole pieces of work to be seen in public places in Richmond are the font at St. Paul's Episcopal Church and a plaster plaque of William Mumford at the Valentine Museum. She looks on his death as a calamity for Virginia and for art in America. Then, there is in the hall of the State Library Building, near the elevator, a miniature in bronze of the Thomas Jefferson, by Sir Moses Ezekiel, which stands in its full proportions at the University of Virginia. Perhaps the Richmond replica is not very widely known.

So you see, many men (and women) have many minds about these various marbles and bronzes. Very few of our statues are unworthy of a good word, it seems, yet there are not many without their faults. No word of criticism is heard, of course, concerning the peerless Washington of Houdon, and there is hardly a whisper other than in praise of the Lee, with its unique, but all-satisfying one-word inscription.

These devotees of art and lovers of the Virginia capital are delighted that tourists gain so much pleasure from viewing these statues. But they regret exceedingly that they are studied so much more closely by our visitors than by residents of Richmond. They wish that school children, as well as men and women, when passing these figures of the great and good of the Old Dominion, would pause and study them. This is especially desirable for this day and time. Such a study, it is felt, would not only stimulate interest in sculpture and enrich the spirits of the observers, but it could not fail to fill all with pride in the men and events that have brought to Virginia fame and glory throughout this nation and the world.

 

 

 






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