Thomas Jefferson Papers

Houdon: Proposal I


[ca. July 1789?]

Mr. Houdon1 requires for the execution of an Equastrian Statue of General Washington in Bronze the Sum of £1,000,0002 and the Pedestal in Marble and the term of eight years3 from the present instant for the finishing of it, in Case the bargain Shou’d be Signed by both party’s in the Course of the present year.

The price being agreed on he Submits the distribution of the payments to the Convenience of the Congress Submitting however to their Consideration that the heaviest part of the expence Will fall upon him in the first years.

He thinks he ought to recommend to have the work performed in two Separate Casts. That is the General in one Cast and the horse in another. Since this Method would not be any prejudice to the uniformity of the4 work which on the Contrary would be benefitted in every part, as well in its execution as in its Solidity and facility of transporting it. Mr. Houdon insists the rather upon this point from the experience he and his workmen have acquired in their endeavours to perfect themselves, as he Know of no founders5 at present equal in ability to those which he has himself instructed at a great expence during 18 years,6 those who were employed for the Equestrian Statue of Louis 15, being now dead.

MS (DLC: TJ Papers, 53: 8991); in Houdon’s hand, with correction by TJ. Undated, but assigned to this period on the basis of internal evidence (see especially note 6, below) and the following notation in TJ’s hand on a memorandum pertaining to a pedestal for Lafayette’s bust by Houdon: “Houdon asks 1,000,000 livres to make the equestrian Statue of Genl. Washington, and to be 8. years about it” (Memorandum undated, but that pertaining to Lafayette’s bust was written in Mch. 1789, and that concerning the equestrian statue was added later; DLC: TJ Papers, 24: 4214).

The first proposal by Houdon for an equestrian statue of Washington was transmitted by TJ to Jay on 8 July 1786; the present document, designated as the “second proposition” by Hart and Biddle, Houdon, p.185, is so exactly parallel in phraseology to the first as to prove that it was taken from that version. There are, however, important differences both in substance and in phraseology, all of which are indicated in the notes below, where the corresponding text that is cited for the 1786 version is the English text in Houdon’s hand (DLC: TJ Papers, 53: 8988; see TJ to Jay, 8 July 1786). Despite these proposals and Houdon’s ardent desire to do such a statue, nothing ever came of it. So late as 1804 Houdon wrote to Robert R. Livingston: “in spite of the increase in price of everything, I ask no other [than the terms suggested in the first proposal of 1786], because I desire to respond worthily to the confidence with which the United States honor me” (Houdon to Livingston, 5 Germinal [26 Mch.] 1804, PHi).

1The 1786 proposal reads: “Mr. Houdon in possession of the work house of the City of Paris employed for Casting large Works in Bronze and Dwelling upon the Spot where they are erected, requires… .”

2At this point TJ interlined the following: “une million de livres.” The fact that this interlineation is in French suggests that the English text was intended as the basis for a French text (none has been found), and this in turn suggests that the corresponding English text of the 1786 proposal and its accompanying memorandum, both of which exist in English and French texts in Houdon’s hand, may have been similarly treated (both of these texts, English and French, are printed in Chinard, Houdon in America, p.15–20).

The corresponding figure in the 1786 proposal is 600,000 livres.

3The 1786 proposal reads: “ten years.”

4The 1786 proposal reads: “the whole work.”

5The 1786 proposal reads: “he knows of no founder.”

6The 1786 proposal reads: “… during 15 years that he has been in possession of the city foundery’s where the Equestrian Statue of Louis XV. was cast, and those who were employed in that Work are now Dead.” It is on the basis of the difference of three years in the figures given here that the present proposal is ascribed to the year 1789.

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