For the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia (opening April 19, 2017), StudioEIS was commissioned to recreate the equestrian statue of King George III that once stood in New York. That one was a “him, too!” kind of sculpture. In the late 1760s, two American cities had sculptures of William Pitt, whom they honored for his push to get the Stamp Act revoked in 1766. The New York legislature voted on June 23, 1766, to have a sculpture of King George created as well, to commemorate
the innumerable and singular Benefits received from our most gracious sovereign, since the Commencement of his auspicious Reign, during which they have been protected from the fury of a cruel, merciless, and savage Enemy; and lately from the utmost Confusion and Distress, by the Repeal of the Stamp Act: In testimony therefore of their Gratitude, and the Reverence due to his Sacred person and Character: Resolved That this House will make Provision for an Equestrian Statue of His present Majesty, Our Most Gracious Sovereign, to be erected in the City of New York, to perpetuate to the latest posterity, the deep Sense This Colony has, of the eminent and singular Blessings derived from him, during His Most auspicious Reign. (The New York Gazette, June 30, 1766, quoted here. That gratitude and reverence didn’t last long: see “A Message from the King,” Hamilton Musical 15.)
The commission for the sculpture of King George III was awarded to Joseph Wilton, one of the founding members of the Royal Academy.
The gilt-covered lead statue, cast in England, was erected at Bowling Green (then the heart of New York) in 1770. It looked like … well, nobody is quite certain. We know it was similar to the equestrian portrait of Marcus Aurelius in Rome – the model for rulers who wanted to evoke dignity and longevity.
We know the sculpture’s head was a portrait of King George III. We know he wore a Roman toga. But no contemporary images of the Wilton sculpture have survived, if indeed any were made.
On July 9, 1776 – the day the Declaration of Independence was read aloud to New Yorkers – the statue was pulled down from its pedestal. Its pieces were hauled off to Connecticut; most were melted down into musket balls. The New-York Historical Society owns half a dozen fragments, including the horse’s tail and the plinth (the base to which the statue was attached).
Later depictions of the toppling of King George are fanciful. In the one below, based on a painting of 1852-53, the horse is rearing, the king wears modern clothes and a crown, and the buildings in the background are far more elegant than 18th-century New York could offer.
So StudioEIS based their recreation on Marcus Aurelius, with a portrait of King George III as its head.
High tech for an old sculpture
Here’s what amazes me about this sculpture of King George.
For millennia, there were two options for large, enduring sculpture: stone and bronze. To create a large bronze sculpture, you built an armature, applied clay to shape the form, created a mold, cast a hollow bronze sculpture, and hand-finished the details. The staff at StudioEIS are masters of this: they’ve done dozens of life-size bronze sculptures, including all 42 signers of the Constitution for the National Constitution Center.
The King George sculpture marks the first time StudioEIS created a work using 3D imaging software. Not a smidgen of clay was involved.
Using the computer file, the main parts of the sculpture were milled from a block of dense urethane foam. Its surface is so smooth that with faux gilt applied, it passes for metal.
The areas that required more detail – the king’s head, the horse’s bridle – were created using a 3D printer.
I had no idea 3D printing was that advanced. Like, wow.
- Many thanks to Ivan Schwartz at StudioEIS for telling me the story behind this sculpture, granting me permission to publish photographs, and supplying images of the computer model.
- George Washington at Union Square is also based on Marcus Aurelius in Rome. (The link is to the supplementary page for the Guides Who Know Monuments of Manhattan app).
- The Lansdowne House dining room at the Metropolitan Museum was created in the same decade as the original King George III sculpture. Like King George, it’s in the Neoclassical style.
- The two sculptures of William Pitt dedicated in the late 1760s were also by Joseph Wilton (more pics of his work here). One Pitt stood in Charleston, the other in New York, at Wall and William Streets. In retaliation for the Americans toppling King George, British soldiers decapitated Pitt. Pitt (still headless) is now at the New-York Historical Society.
- For primary sources on destruction of King George III (including the fate of its head), see “The Statue of George III” by Bob Ruppert. I referred to the sculpture briefly in Hamilton Musical 8.
- On the StudioEIS recreation of King George, see also David W. Dunlap, “Long-Toppled Statue of King George III to Ride Again, From a Brooklyn Studio,” New York Times, October 20, 2016.
- For other posts on sculpture, see the Obsessions cloud at lower right.