Thomas Crawford, George Washington Equestrian Monument

Thomas Crawford, George Washington Equestrian Monument, cast 1857 in Munich, partly erected 1858 (Washington, Henry, Jefferson, and Mason), remaining figures completed by Randolph Rogers in 1869, bronze, granite, the equestrian bronze element is 21 feet high (State Capitol, Richmond, Virginia)


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Crawford, Equestrian George Washington

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Key points

  • This sculptural monument on the grounds of the state capitol building in Richmond, Virginia took almost twenty years to complete. The prolonged period of creation was in part due to the 1857 death of Thomas Crawford, the original artist assigned to the commission. The United States Civil War (1861–65) also intervened, and the monument was finally completed by artist Randolph Rodgers in 1869.
  • The monument is principally dedicated to George Washington (1732–99), positioned at the top in his military uniform and astride his horse. Below Washington are representations of six other Virginians, each a significant figure in the time of the American Revolution (1775–83). The sculpture of each man is attended by an allegorical figure representing their contributions to the founding period of the United States.
  • The design and layered symbolism of the monument reflects the evolving and differing perspectives on American republicanism over the period of 1850 to 1869. During this time, tensions between the northern and southern United States ran high over questions of liberty, expansion, and governance and finally erupted in the U.S. Civil War in 1861. The figure of George Washington, honored here for his military genius and role in founding the nation, was at first understood as the great unifier of the nation and then came to be embraced in the south as the Virginia-born embodiment of the rebellious values of the Confederate States of America.

Go deeper

Learn more about the legacy and symbolism of George Washington through Jean-Antoine Houdon’s George Washington.

Compare Crawford’s sculpture with works by other artists, such as Frederick Edwin Church and Jasper Francis Cropsey, that reflect the debates and perspectives on American republicanism in the 1850s.

Explore the layout of the Virginia State Capitol and Capitol Square, where the George Washington Equestrian Monument is located.

More to think about

This equestrian monument reminds us that meaning is not fixed but can change over time, and that different people can find vastly different meanings in the same artwork. Think about the reception of this monument today. What does American republicanism mean to you and does this monument reflect that understanding? If not, how would you design a monument to American republicanism?

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

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Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.