Portrait Sculpture Bust
This portrait bust of Lafayette is a faithful reproduction of Jean Antoine Houdons original sculpture done from life in Paris in 1786. Houdon had been commissioned by the State of Virginia to make two marble busts of this noble hero of the American Revolution. One of the busts was to be placed in the Rotunda of the Virginia State Capitol facing Houdons full-length statue of George Washington. The other bust was presented to Lafayette as a gift and installed in the Hotel de Ville during an elaborate ceremony. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during the French Revolution.
The plaster bust owned by Thomas Jefferson of Lafayette shows the marquis simply in his American major general uniform without the elaboration of drapery shown on the marble bust in the Virginia Capitol. Although Houdon did his best to cast Lafayette in a heroic pose, he had difficulties because of the marquiss actual appearance. The bust shows still a rather callow and unlined face although this sitting was done eight years after the events of the American Revolution. Houdon shows Lafayette in as soldierly a pose as possible with chin lifted, head turned, shoulders and chest out, eyes fixed on the horizon. In another version, exhibited in the salon of 1791, Lafayette is shown in the uniform of the Garde Nationale. He wears a new wig that partially covers the long sloping forehead so accurately recorded in the earlier busts. However, this bust is not so highly regarded as the earlier busts from 1786.
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. The original is life sized and measures 29 3/8 inches high including the pedestal.
This Williamsburg Sculpture portrait bust of Lafayette was first sculpted by the artist in red, soft, unfired clay using an original 1786 Houdon plaster bust as a visual model. 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.
The marquis de Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier Lafayette was a French aristocrat who fought with the American Colonists against the British in the American Revolution. Later, he became one of the most powerful men during the French Revolution by allying himself with the revolutionary bourgeoisie.
Lafayette was born into an ancient, noble family and had inherited an immense fortune by his eighteenth birthday. He aspired to win glory as a soldier. The American Revolution gave him his opportunity. He arrived in Philadelphia 27 months after the outbreak of the war and was appointed a major general by the colonists. He quickly struck up a lasting friendship with George Washington, commander-in-chief of the American forces. Lafayette fought with distinction at the Battle of Brandywine and Barren Hill. Returning to France in 1779, he helped persuade the government of Louis XVI to send a 6,000 man expeditionary force to aid the colonists. When he arrived back in America in 1780, Lafayette was given command of an army in Virginia. After forcing Cornwallis to retreat across Virginia, Lafayette entrapped him at Yorktown which led to the surrender and defeat of the British. Lafayette was hailed a "Hero of Two Worlds," and on returning to France promoted t o marechal de camp. He became a citizen of several states on a visit to the United States in 1784. During the next five years, Lafayette became a leader of the liberal aristocrats and became an outspoken advocate of religious toleration and slave trade abolition. Although he supported measures that transferred power from the aristocracy to the bourgeoisie, he was forced to defect to Austria in 1792, with the rise to power of the radical democrats, who would have tried him for treason. He returned to France when Napoleon came to power in 1799 and settled down as a gentleman farmer. After serving for ten years in the Chamber of Deputies, Lafayette returned to the United States in 1824 where he was received with wild praise.
Lafayette was a trusted friend of Thomas Jefferson who owned at least three portraits of him at Monticello. Included was Houdons bust which was installed in the tea room in Jeffersons "gallery of worthies" together with Houdons busts of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and John Paul Jones.