November 7, 2013
Enter the Karen Buchwald Wright Reading Room, at the heart of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, and you will be welcomed by busts of George Washington and five of his compatriots, custom-created by StudioEIS for Mount Vernon. Alongside George Washington are his colleagues, and sometimes rivals, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. Each man is depicted as he appeared in the mid-1780s, a pivotal time in the establishment of the new republic.
The bust of Washington sculpted by Jean-Antoine Houdon, as well as other portraiture available to Mount Vernon staff, served as the reference points for the Reading Room’s Washington bust. He is sculpted wearing the simple, American-made, civilian clothing that he wore throughout the majority of his presidency.
Houdon busts of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin also offered rich reference material; however, creating the likeness of John Adams proved a greater challenge as images of him from the 1780s are small in number. To depict a younger Adams, Mount Vernon looked to a Mather Brown painting at the Boston Athenaeum and a John Singleton Copley painting at the Harvard University Portrait Collection to guide the project. Similarly, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, who were just 28 and 34 years of age at the time, proved difficult to render at such young ages.
By design, Hamilton is placed directly next to Washington as a testament to their close relationship, while Franklin, the eldest of the six men, is placed on the left end as if to watch over his younger compatriots. George Washington is purposefully not a spotlight figure, but instead placed among his peers, and tilting his head toward the entrance of the Library to welcome scholars into the space.
Fred W. Smith National Library