COLLECTION: Decorative Sculpture

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Stove Figure: George Washington

1850-1900 (possibly)
Origin: America, New York, New York
Overall: 47 1/2 x 18 1/2 x 16 1/2in. (120.7 x 47 x 41.9cm)
Cast iron
Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller
Acc. No. 1931.809.1
A hollow, cast iron figure of a man wearing a toga over 18th century style clothing. The casting was done in a two-part mold (front and back).
Label:By the early 1930s, many folk art students believed that cast iron sculptures of this type had been created primarily as ornamental garden figures (note 1). However, subsequent research revealed that in 1841, Alonzo Blanchard had patented a similar cast iron figure as a "new and useful Dumb or Radiator Parlor Stove" (note 2). In his "Letters Patent No. 8 dated August 26, 1843," Blanchard applied for rights to reproduce this particular figure of George Washington (calling it, somewhat more ambiguously, " . . . a new design, figure, or Statue for ornamental purposes such as Radiators for Stoves etc. . . .) (note 3). Two Washington radiator figures actually mounted on stoves have been noted to date (note 4).
Washington stove figures in this pattern and marked "Design Patented Aug. 26, 1843" presumably were produced under Blanchard's authority, but other, virtually identical examples bear no such inscription and cannot be attributed with the same assurance (note 5). The Folk Art Center's figure is one of the latter. Some, if not all, of these unmarked castings undoubtedly were fabricated by other manufacturers. For instance, the Jordan L. Mott Iron Works of New York City is said to have cast examples of the same design during the second half of the nineteenth century (note 6).
Blanchard's design is closely related to that used by Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841) for his marble statue of Washington created in 1826 for the Massachusetts State Capitol Building in Boston (note 7). Both sculptures show the first President with a Roman toga draped over eighteenth-century garb, a sartorial combination apparently intended to pacify both extremes in the heated nineteenth-century controversy surrounding appropriate portrayal of America's founding father. Some artists favored the realism of contemporary clothing, but others sought to enoble and, perhaps, deify the late President by depicting him in ancient dress (note 8).
Provenance:Found in Greenwich, Conn., and purchased by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller from Edith Gregor Halpert (The American Folk Art Gallery), New York, NY, September 1931.