DescriptionImportant Letter Group to Sculptor Horatio Greenough on his famed Semi-nude Statue of George Washington.
Charles Sumner (1811-1874), fine collection of five Autograph Letters Signed to neoclassical sculptor Horatio Greenough (1805-1852) best known for his semi-nude statue of George Washington commissioned for Congress to sit in the Capitol Rotunda. An excellent and detailed correspondence from Sumner to the noted sculptor concerning art, politics and, in a particular, Greenough's statue of George Washington -- a work that caused great controversy with the heroic subject presented in the classical (semi-nude) form. Based on Phidias's statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greenough received the commission from Congress in 1833 and completed the study in 1841. Sumner, who traveled widely in Europe between 1837 and 1840, met with Greenough, his fellow Boston native, while the latter was working on his statue of Washington in Florence.
The correspondence begins with an A.L.S., four pages, 8.25" x 10.5", Berlin, January 8, 1839 with integral address leaf addressed to Horatio Greenough in Florence. Sumner discusses works in progress: "...Columbus against the negro; that was a good exchange; will it be sufficient to make him pondering a globe? An astronomer might be so represented; Tycho Bronze is so, in the bas relief of his monument at Prague. A ship compass, a trident -- can these symbols be resorted to? -- I rather incline to prefer the Indian to the Virgin America. Indeed, Columbus & the Indian would be types of the two great races..." After more discussion he notes that he "...should be pleased to know how you go in with yr second Govt. word..." Usual folds, light soiling, small loss from seal tear not affecting text, else very good. Later in the year, Sumner again writes on art in an A.L.S., four pages, 8.5" x 10.25", Vienna, November 8, 1839 with integral address leaf addressed to Horatio Greenough in Florence, specifically on the Washington statue: "...I have yr. Washington in my mind often, & the conviction has grown upon me, that you have done the great subject ample justice, & that you will produce a work that will make us all feel a pride in you as of our country. I hope you may succeed with the accessories, as you have with the figure. I would have them all pure, harmonious, & classical; by pure, I mean free from any the least thing that would tend to bring up an idea undignified or disagreeable. -& I am almost inclined to say the Indian; also the conceit of Washington passing bye [sic] the sirens [sic] Having determined upon one or more classical accessories, I would have them all of this character. This again would make against the negro & Indians. And in determining the classical, I would resort as much as possible to the actual antique, rather than to my own fancy for figures in the style of the antique..."
Back in Boston, Sumner learns of the completion of the statue. In another A.L.S., four pages, 7.25" x 9", Boston, February 28, 1841, he accurately predicts a bad reaction from Americans: "Let me congratulate you on the completion of yr Statue, & the distinction it has given you. From the hour, when you admitted me to see it, lighted by lamps & torches, I have not doubted for a moment the result. It will give you fame. Still I feel that it must pass through a disagreeable ordeal, one, which, as it seems unavoidable, I hope will not be annoying to you. I refer to the criticisms of people, knowing nothing of art. In Europe an artist is judged at once, in a certain sense, by his peers. With us all are critics. The rawest Buckeye will not hesitate to judge your work, & will, perhaps, complain that Washington is naked; that he has not a cocked hat & a military coat of the Continental cut; that he is not standing etc. etc. The loungers in the Rotunda, not educated in view of works of art, many, never before having seen a statue in marble, will want the necessary knowledge to enable them to appreciate yr Washington. Should you not prepare them, so far as you can? And you can do a great deal. Publish in Kickerbocker's Magazine, or such other journal... some of the papers you read me during my visit to Florence; Particularly that on the nude, for there I think you will encounter a deal of squeamish criticism..." Small loss from seal tear, usual folds, light toning, else fine. The semi-nude statue was lampooned in the press and proved scandalous for conservative viewers. Despite the controversy, Congress voted to reimburse Greenough for his work. A copy of the act is forwarded by Sumner in another A.L.S., four pages, 7.25" x 9", Boston, September 16, 1841 with integral address leaf addressed to Horatio Greenough in Florence: "...Above is the act, which was passed under the spur of your admirable letter to the Secretary of State... My friend Hillard... says it as good as a good statue. It touched cords of the human hart which stifled all pultry [sic], mean considerations... You will read the newspapers, & the sad revelations, as they seem at present, of Tyler's weakness & bad faith. His hand is turned by the brief hour of power to which he has come by accident... " Clipping of the Congressional Act providing for Greenough's expenses glued to front of letter, partial fold separation, else very good.
Because of the controversy, the statue was moved in 1843 out of the Capitol Rotunda to the East Lawn on the Capitol where some joked that Washington was desperately reaching for his clothes that were on exhibit at the Patent Office several blocks north. The statue came to the Smithsonian in 1908 and now occupies a prominent spot in the National Museum of American History. Greenough died in 1852. The collection finishes with a sorrowful A.L.S. from Sumner, four pages. 4" x 6.75", Washington, December 21, 1852 to Greenough's widow: "Sincerely & deeply I mourn with you. The death of Horatio Greenough is a loss not only to wife & children, but to friends & the worked, to Art & Literature... " Very fine. A spectacular collection of material. From the Henry E. Luhrs Collection. Accompanied by LOA from PSA/DNA.
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