1962-66 5¢ George Washington
Issue Date: November 23, 1962
City: New York, New York
Printed By: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Rotary Press
Perforations: 10 Vertically
Color: Dark blue gray
U.S. #1229 features George Washington, with the image reproduced on a bust by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. Houdon was a renowned portrait sculptor in Europe, making busts and statues of King Louis XVI, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau – and Americans Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, while they spent time in France.
In 1785, Franklin convinced Houdon to travel to America, where he visited Washington at his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia. Houdon made wet clay models and a plaster life mask, which served for numerous other sculptures. Houdon’s busts served as models for numerous U.S. stamps featuring Washington – including this one.
The “Father of our Country” –
The American people loved George Washington. His army officers would have made him king, if he had let them. Instead, he returned to Mount Vernon for five peaceful years. But, it wasn’t long before he was called again to serve his country, as the head of the Virginia delegation to the Constitutional Convention. After the United States Constitution was approved, Washington became the nation’s first President, winning all the available electoral votes. And when Washington was re-elected in 1792, he again received the highest-possible number of electoral votes.
President Washington successfully solved many of the problems of making the government established by the U.S. Constitution into a truly functional government. Washington believed the Constitution called for the branches of government to be kept separate. He felt the President should not attempt to influence the legislation passed by Congress – unless it was through presidential veto. Washington maintained that the presidency was for the administration of law and for maintaining relations with foreign nations.
After two terms, Washington retired to Mount Vernon. But he again served his country. On July 4, 1798, he was commissioned as “Lieutenant General and Commander in Chief of the armies raised and to be raised,” and asked to raise an army for the nation’s defense.
Washington died at Mount Vernon at the age of 67. In 1976, he was given posthumously the rank of General of the Armies of the United States, making him the highest-ranking officer in U.S. history. No other American is as honored as the “Father of our Country.” His portrait is featured on numerous postage stamps, the $1 bill, and the quarter. The capital and a state are named in his honor. The Washington Monument, a giant obelisk erected in his honor in Washington, D.C., was completed in 1880.
Birth of Jean-Antoine Houdon
Renowned sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon was born on March 25, 1741, in Versailles, France. He sculpted a number of high-profile figures during his life, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Fulton, Napoleon Bonaparte, and more.
Houdon’s father was a servant who worked in the home of a high-ranking aristocrat. In 1749, that home began hosting the newly created Élèves Protégés, a special school for people who received the Prix de Rome. As a result, Houdon grew up surrounded by the day’s best crown-sponsored artists. He apprenticed with sculptor Michel Ange Slodtz and then won the Prix de Rome himself in 1761, enabling him to study at the Élèves Protégés.
Houdon enjoyed his time in Rome, studying classical sculptures. In fact, the students were tasked with copying famed marble sculptures that would be displayed in the royal gardens in France. Houdon returned to Paris in 1768 and was invited to show his work at the prestigious Salon. While his work was widely praised by many, he didn’t impress the director of major crown commissions. However, Houdon’s 1771 terracotta bust of French philosopher Denis Diderot earned him significant attention, particularly from foreign nobles and other high-society figures. Houdon created several busts of author Voltaire that inspired valuable commissions for seated Voltaire sculptures.
In the 1770s and 80s, Houdon befriended a number of American dignitaries living in Paris, including Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones, and Thomas Jefferson. He sculpted each of these men and Jefferson encouraged him to go to America to sculpt George Washington. Houdon spent weeks in 1785 at Washington’s Mount Vernon home and studied him carefully. On one occasion, Washington became angry about a horse trader’s prices and ordered the man off his property. At that moment, Houdon found the expression of pride and strength that inspired a nation. Houdon set off to capture the expression in his sculpture. The artist prepared a clay bust and a plaster life mask of Washington before returning to France to complete his work. Houdon’s bust of Washington is regarded as the most accurate representation of George Washington’s face in existence.
Houdon was commissioned to sculpt a wide variety of figures – magicians, magistrates, ministers, and the royal family. He also created plaster models of statues that he hoped would impress patrons to pay for them to be made in bronze or marble.
In 1786 he got married and had three daughters. His sculptures of them are considered some of his finest works picturing children. During the French Revolution he fell out of favor because of his connections to the royal court. But after the war, he again held a prominent position in the art community and worked on the Column of the Grand Armée. He was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1804. He completed his final American commissions the year before, depicting inventor Robert Fulton and poet Joel Barlow. He also did his last commission for imperial Russia of Czar Alexander I. Houdon died on July 15, 1828.