Houdon writes Gouveneur Morris concerning payment for his celebrated marble statue of Washington, done for the Virginia State Capitol building in Richmond. In the letter to Morris, Houdon briefly refers to his having received the last payment for the statue, 9000 livres, in assignats, a form of paper currency which circulated below the par value of specie, and he requests that the difference be made up. The enclosure gives these facts in more detail, it doubtless being sent with the letter to Morris for forwarding to the proper authorities in Virginia, though this is not specifically stated. The fact that the two letters have remained together would indicate that Morris did not in fact pass on Houdon's request.
The Houdon statue of Washington was commissioned by the Virginia legislature by a resolution of 22 June 1784. The next year the artist sailed for America in the company of Benjamin Franklin, and from 2 to 19 October was at Mount Vernon, modelling the features of Washington. The full-length statue apparently had been completed by 1791, when Morris saw it in Houdon's studio, but there ensued a long delay in shipping it, which caused much confusion. The statue was not shipped from France until January 1796; it reached Philadelphia in April, and was at Richmond in May.
In the undated letter, Houdon gives "Messieurs Morris, Short et Monroe" as references in the matter of the shortage in payment. William Short was chargé d'affaires in Paris from 1789 to 1792, and had been there previously under Jefferson when the original dealings for the statue were made. Morris was minister to France 1792–94, and Monroe was minister 1794–96.
Gouverneur Morris's connection with the Houdon statue is of very special interest. Houdon did not model the body of Washington from life, but only the head. When he was making the statue in full length, Morris posed for the body, and thus the work is in reality a composite portrait.
A highly important pair of letters concerning one of the finest works of art to enter this country in the 18th century.
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