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George Wythe

Portrait Sculpture Bust

 

 

Original Sculpture Done in Houdon's Style

George Wythe

(1726-1806)

_____________________

1996

terracotta

15 x 9 x 8 in.

 

 

George Wythe

(1726-1806)

_____________________

1996

Marble

15 x 9 x 8 in.

 

George Wythe was probably America’s first great law teacher, whose pupils included Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and Henry Clay.

Admitted to the Bar in 1746, Wythe was a member and clerk of the House of Burgesses. In 1764, he drew up a forceful remonstrance from Virginia to the British House of Commons against the Stamp Act. In 1776, George Wythe, as a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress, signed the Declaration of Independence. In addition, in that year he was appointed by the Virginia legislature along with Edmund Pendleton, George Mason and Thomas Jefferson to revise the entire Virginia Code of Laws. He was a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and a member of the Virginia Convention that ratified the federal Constitution.

A chancery judge from 1778, Wythe became sole chancellor of Virginia in 1788. As an ex officio member of the state supreme court, Wythe, in the case of Commonwealth v. Caton (1782), asserted the power of the courts to refuse to enforce unconstitutional laws.

Thomas Jefferson studied law in Wythe’s office, at Williamsburg, Virginia, in the 1760’s. Appointed through Jefferson’s influence, Wythe held, at the College of William and Mary, the first U.S. professorship of law. Today the law school at the College of William and Mary is named after George Wythe and one of his former students, John Marshall.

George Wythe was a learned, temperate, and kindly gentleman. A kindly savant, not quick to apprehend but profound in penetration. Thomas Jefferson considered him his wisest counselor. Wythe was not trained in The Inns of Court in London but rather read the law in the office of a country practitioner after some education at the College of William and Mary. Nevertheless, he was generally recognized as one of the two best courtroom attorneys in Virginia and second to none in knowledge of the law. His interests ranged far beyond his profession and public affairs.

George Wythe had a spare figure dominated by a large head with a large balding brow. He had large gray eyes, a bold Roman nose, and a rock firm jaw and gentle mouth. Alf Map has described George Wythe’s large head as to have appeared to have stolen extra nutriment from his body.

Unfortunately, Houdon never made a portrait bust of George Wythe. Jefferson considered Houdon to be the finest sculptor of their day. Houdon always worked from life. He began by modeling the sitter in red, soft, unfired clay. He then fashioned a mold on the clay maquette. From this mold, Houdon made a plaster cast. He then created additional plaster casts and marble busts based on this first casting. High quality atelier or studio plasters were then made as castings from molds of the marble model.

This original Williamsburg Sculpture portrait bust of George Wythe was first sculpted by the artist in red, soft, unfired clay using an original eighteenth century painting as a visual model and written descriptions of Wythe’s appearance. Next, a mothermold of the clay maquette was created using silicone rubber within a fiberglass shell. A first casting was made from this mold in bonded marble. This first marble casting was then re-sculpted and used as a model to produce a second or production mold. All open edition pieces are a casting product directly from this second mold. All numbered special edition pieces are from a third mold that was created from an artist-refined model from the second mold. The artist in preparation of the model for the third mold uses meticulous attention to detail. All lines are sharpened and a great deal of time is spent on refining the details of the work. The special casting from the third mold is further hand finished by the artist before delivery.

 

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