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Alexander Hamilton Statue

First Marble Statue carved in America 

 Woodblock print of what the statue looked like
from NYPL Digital Gallery


    The statue of Hamilton (1757-1804) was the first marble statue produced in the United States.  It was carved from a 9 ton block of white Italian marble.  The statue weighed 1.5 tons when finished and stood 14 foot high on its' base.  It took Ball Hughes 1 or 2 years to complete at a cost of $6,000-8,000.  The statue stood in the Grand Rotunda at the top of the New York Merchants Exchange and was destroyed 8 months later in the Great Fire of 1835. 


The First Merchants Exchange
Built in 1826
from A Century of Banking in New York 1822-1922, p.134


 The Merchants' Room
As it looked in 1831 before the statue of Hamilton erected
from A Century of Banking in New York 1822-1922, p.134


    An article The Statue of Gen. Hamilton appeared in "The Family Magazine, Or Monthly Abstract of General Knowledge" Vol 3, edited by Origen, New York: Redfield & Lindsay, 1835-6, pp. 41 & 42 with a different woodblock print of the statue than shown above. The article states:
"If any specimen of statuary can impress the beholder with exalted ideas of the art of sculpture, it is the statue of Alexander Hamilton." ... "The mind is filled with admiration at the triumph of that noble art that can make the marble almost warm to life."  'it is almost a speaking statue, beautiful in design, and wonderful in the execution, which has carried the minutest parts to extraordinary perfection.  What a powerful conception, strong imagination, discriminating taste, excellent judgment, and skillful hand, must distinguish the artist who can chisel such a "human from divine" out of the rude block of the quarry!  To accomplish it, must be the attribute of that high order of genius to which we may apply the adage, nascitur, non fit (Latin: for born, not made, as in a poet is born, not made).  Of this order we may class Mr. Ball Hughes of this city, to whose skillful hand the country is indebted for this magnificent production.  For him, the statue of Hamilton speaks higher and more endearing encomiums than the most lavish praise.  to look upon this statue, or the monument of Bishop Hobart in Trinity Church, or the busts of Edward Livingston and others, is to be convinced of his superior talents."  ... "We are happy to coincide with Col. Trumbull in this matter, in thinking that "there are very few pieces of statuary in Europe superior to this, and not twenty-five sculptors in the universe who can surpass this work."" 

    The Wonders of the World, In Nature, Art, and Mind by Robert Sears, New York: Sears, 1843, pp. 426-429 has this same article.

    William Dana Orcutt records in Good Old Dorchester Cambridge: John Wilson & Son, UP, 1893, pp. 383-385: "The following description of Mr. Hughes' "Statue of Hamilton " is taken from a New York paper published at the time of the unveiling of the statue in that city:"

    "The artist, Ball Hughes, Esq., has produced a work which does him the greatest possible credit. Hundreds of our most respectable citizens, who were intimately acquainted with General Hamilton, besides a great number of artists, pronounced it a most chaste and perfect piece of sculpture, and an exact likeness. Mr. Hughes, should he never execute another work of the kind, has, in the judgment of all who have seen it, acquired a fame that will at least live as long as himself.
    The statue is carved from a block of Italian marble, which, when first placed in the hands of the artist, weighed nine tons, but it has been reduced to one and a half tons. The attitude of the statue represents the general about to speak, in his usual position of dignity and repose. His right hand holds a scroll, understood to be his able report on funding the national debt, — appended to which is the seal of the Treasury Department, resting on a beautiful polished pedestal, giving thereby a softness to the drapery approaching reality. His left leg hangs gracefully by his side, and is a wonderful piece of carving. The right leg is slightly in advance, and the foot projecting over the base, which gives great lightness and elegance to the  figure. The other leg is wonderfully relieved from the drapery, and must have been a work of intense labor. The wrinkles or creases of the silk stockings and the small-clothes have every appearance of reality. The fold of the robe excites a wonder how such drapery could be carved on such delicate marble.
    The head looks toward the left shoulder, and is pronounced by all who have seen it and knew the distinguished statesman, to be a perfect likeness; the broad, high forehead, the slightly contracted brow, the deep-set eyes, and general firmness of expression, richly shadowed by the gracefully carved hair, — give to it a dignity of character truly great. The costume of the figure is chastely conceived, is modern, but is so arranged as to display the anatomy of the limbs. A graceful robe surrounds it, which, while it imparts richness to the general effect, tends to conceal those parts of dress which might take from the sublimity of the work, and conveys at the same time the idea of one who holds both a civil and military station.
    This whole work is the production of a few of our most public-spirited merchants, who subscribed some six or eight thousand dollars to procure a likeness of this distinguished statesman for the benefit of the public.”
    Illustrated Biography; or, Memoirs of the Great and the Good of All Nations and Times by Charles C. Savage, Buffalo: Phinney & Co. 1856, pp. 428-430 has another description of the statue.
   An article in the  New York Spirit Of Times Dec 12, 1885, p. 582, column 1, available from Old Fulton Post Cards at www.fultonhistory.com, states: “This was a statue of Alexander Hamilton, executed in Italian marble, at the expense of the merchants of this city, by the talented and eccentric Ball Hughes, a sculptor of more than ordinary talent, which stood in the centre of the exchange rotunda.” Note the reference to Ball Hughes as eccentric. This is the first time that I have heard of him being described as eccentric but it fits with what we do know about him.


The Great Fire of 1835

The Great Fire of the City of New-York,
16 December 1835.
Published c1836 April 18
Cropped from Library of Congress Prints & Lithographs online Catalog


    The lithograph above was also published on the cover of "Antiques Journal," March 1957, which contained the article The Ball-Hughes Statue of Alexander Hamilton by Georgia Stamm Chamberlain on p. 16 and 17. The cover picture credit on p. 39 states: "The Great Fire of the City of New York, 16 December, 1835". "Colored lithograph, 20-3/8"x18-3/4". Mr. Patterson is running up the steps of the Merchants Exchange in an attempt to save the Hamilton statue. The Post Office is shown in the basement of the Exchange. Also shown are the offices of the New York American (1819-45)."

    According to Orcutt in Good Old Dorchester p. 384-385, "It is related that Mr. Hughes, who was at that time in New York, was awakened from his sleep by the fire-bells.  He rose at once, and prepared to go out.  When urged to remain at home, he replied, I feel that I must go," and he arrived at the Exchange Building just in time to see his statue topple over and crash."

    According to L. Maria Child in Letters From New York, Boston: Charles S. Francis & Co., 1843, p. 19, "The artist stood gazing on the scene with listless despair; and when his favourite [sic] production of his genius, on which he had bestowed the labour [sic] of two long years, fell beneath the ruins, he sobbed and wept like a child."

    Wayne Craven in Sculpture in America, Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1968 & 1984, pp. 73-74 writes: "The statue was placed in the Exchange in April 1835 and was one of the celebrated monuments of the city -- until December 17 when fire consumed the building, and the statue of Hamilton was destroyed. After noting that the Exchange resembled "the ruins of an ancient temple rather than the new and beautiful resort of the merchants, Philip Hone made the following entry in his diary on the night of December 17, 1835:"

"When the dome of this edifice fell in, the sight was awfully grand. In its fall it demolished the statue of Hamilton executed by Ball Hughes, which was erected in the rotunda only eight months ago by the public spirit of the merchants."

Craven continues: "As the holocaust raged a group of sailors from Brooklyn tried to save the statue by removing it from the building, and even got the extremely heavy marble figure off its pedestal before they had to run for their lives. It was indeed a cruel blow to Hughes, whose fine marmorean masterpiece vanished before the eyes of his contemporaries and whose stature as an artist was severely diminished through the loss of what was probably his greatest completed work."

    See Wikipedia article, Great Fire of New York, and History of the Fire Department of the City of New York, Chapter 18, The Great Conflagration of 1835 for more information.

    Burning of the Merchants' Exchange, painting by Nicolino Calyo with article about the Great Fire by the Museum of the City of New York.

    A plaster model survives in the Museum of the City of New York.  (See Reynolds, Monuments & Masterpieces, pp. 42-43.)

    An image Maquette for Statue of Alexander Hamilton from the Museum of the City of New York is also available online at the Alexander Hamilton Exhibition of the The New-York Historical Society.

Read more about other copies of the model in the following section.


Hamilton Statuette

Plaster Model for Statue of Alexander Hamilton
Image courtesy of Frederick R. Brown III

    Note that the actual marble statue had Hamilton wearing a toga. As the following account by Craven states, Hughes added the toga to conceal a flaw in the marble.

    According to Sculpture in America by Wayne Craven. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1968 & 1984, pp. 73-74: 

"In 1833 the directors of New York's Merchants' Exchange commissioned Hughes to do a marble statue of Alexander Hamilton--the one Nicholas Gevelot for some reason never made. In January 1834 he wrote to Trumbull, as president of the American Academy, to request permission to use that institution's statue gallery to model his "Hamilton," indicating he would require the room for about six weeks. Some time before this he had modeled several small statuettes of Hamilton, three of which still exist-one in the Museum of the City of New York, one in the Detroit Institute of Arts, and one in the Schuyler Mansion in Albany. They have assumed considerable significance since the large marble statue was destroyed by fire only eight months after it had been erected in the Merchants' Exchange. The model in Detroit (Fig. 2.13) shows Hamilton in contemporary dress about to deliver a speech; in his right hand he holds a scroll that rests upon a truncated column, with a wreath done in relief. The well-modeled figure has a fine animated and vigorous stance. As a model for the head, Hughes probably used a marble copy by John Dixey of Ceracchi's famous bust, which had become the standard likeness of Hamilton; Dixey had given his copy to the New-York Historical Society twenty-five years earlier. The figure was carved, probably by Italian artisans in New York, from a block of white Carrara marble, which soon revealed a flaw; to conceal this, Hughes added a Roman toga to his original conception. The appearance of the statue-the first marble portrait statue executed in America-is known from a wood engraving that was published in the New York Mirror on October 24, 1835."

From The Diary of Philip Hone, the entry for Friday, Dec. 24, 1830 states:

"Mr. Ball Hughes's model for the statue of Hamilton, on which he has been employed for a long time past, being now completed, the committee who were named to decide upon its merits assembled at the atelier of the artist, at twelve o'clock. Of that committee were present: Mr. Wilkes, Dr. Hosack, Colonel Trumbull, and myself; and of the Exchange committee, Messrs. Woolsey, Tibbits, Wyckoff, and George Griswold, with Messrs. D. B. Ogden and James R. Murray. The fullest testimony of approbation was unanimously given, and I have no doubt that if the artist finishes the statue agreeably to the promise given by the model, it will be the best piece of statuary in the United States.”

    Here we learn the there were two committees, one with Mr. (Charles) Wilkes, Dr. (David) Hosack, Col. (John) Trumbull, and Philip Hone and an Exchange committee. Craven states that the directors of the Exchange commissioned Hughes to do a marble statue of Alexander Hamilton in 1833 but Hones diary entry was from Dec. 1830, much earlier.  This leaves about a two-year delay before initial approval and commissioning of the statue.

    Note that Ball Hughes may have cast more than the three models that Craven stated still exist (as of 1968). The models may have all been the same design as all the images referenced here appear to be the same.  The document below may be for nine additional casts of the model.

Contract for casts of the Model of Hamilton?
(or for portrait busts of each subscriber?)
About 1831? Image courtesy of Frederick R. Brown III
The casts to be twenty Dollars to be
delivered before the first of May
and paid for on delivery
    Note that the document above is for multiple casts and contains the signatures of  John Trumbull, D. B. Ogden (lawyer), (Elisha) Tibbits (wealthy New Yorker), Charles Wilkes (1764-1833, President of the Bank of New York and an officer of the American Academy of Arts, along with John Trumbull), John Hone, Dr. David Hosack (Hamilton's physician), William Johnson, and Philip Hone (one-term Mayor of New York in 1826) . Six of the nine names on the contract were cited by Philip Hone in his diary entry for Dec. 24, 1830 as being on one of the committees for the statue of Hamilton. They are Trumbull, Ogden, Tibbits, Wilkes, Hosack, and Philip Hone.

    Philip Hone (1780-1851) was an officer of the Merchants Exchange at one time according to the Introduction to The Diary of Philip Hone 1821-1851.  John Hone was Philip Hones older brother and also a prominent merchant like Philip.  John Hone died from the Cholera of 1832 according to The Old Merchants of New York City by Walter Barrett, 1885. That dates this document as pre-1833. (Ball Hughes had to abandon his studio and flee with his family to New Jersey from New York for a few months during the Cholera epidemic in the summer of 1832.)

    Philip Hones diary entry for Dec. 1830 about the model for the statue would have been “some time” before Hughes was approached in 1833  to execute the marble statute of Hamilton as Craven described. This pre-1833 document is consistent with Craven's account. 

    Perhaps the subscribers on the contract above ordered casts after seeing the model.   Several of the men whose signatures are on the contract were contemporaries or associates of Hamilton who was a founding father, military officer, economist, political philosopher, and a New York financier, lawyer, and politician.  Col. Trumbull was an aide-de-camp of Gen. George Washington.  Hamilton was a senior aide-de-camp to Washington.  D. B. Ogden was a New York lawyer. Elisha Tibbits was a wealthy New Yorker. Charles Wilkes was the President of the Bank of New York.  Dr. Hosack attended to Hamilton after his fatal duel with Aaron Burr in 1804.  William Johnson was probably the U.S. Supreme Court Justice who died in New York in 1834.  Trumbull, Wilkes, and Hosack were officers of the American Academy of Arts.

    Since writing this, I have found a letter from Ball Hughes to Thomas P. Devereux, dated June 27, 1831, where he lists the names of gentlemen who have sat for him for their bust.  The list of 15 names includes Ogden, Philip Hone, Tibbits, Hosack, and Wilkes. These five men were on the committee for the Statue of Hamilton and on the contract for casts above.

    I think it more likely that the contract is for something the men had in common, like the desire for a model of the Statue of Hamilton, rather than for their individual busts.

    Trumbull, whose name also appears on the contract, did not have his marble bust carved until 1833 or 1834. If Hughes had also carved a bust of Trumbull before June 1831, why wouldn't he have mentioned it in the list of names in his letter to Devereux in June 1831?  Note that the contract above was for casts.  These would have probably been plaster and not bronze at the time.

    Ball Hughes probably kept this document for sentimental reasons.  It's been passed down through the Brown family and now we may know it's significance.

    The Art Inventories Catalog of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, available through the Smithsonian Institute Research System (SIRIS), lists five statuettes of Hamilton by Robert Ball Hughes: a 27.8" bronze (1829 [sic]) at the Albany Institute of History & Art, a 27" painted plaster (1835) at the Detroit Institute of Arts, a 27-1/8" marble at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, a 27" plaster (1830-31) at the Schuyler Museum in Albany, NY (image below) and the model referenced above (1831) at the Museum of the City of New York. Some accounts record the height as 28". That might include the base. 

    Watch the video lecture: Sculptors and Their Patrons at Mount Auburn, 1820-1870, presented March 1, 2007 by David B. Dearinger, Susan Mores Hilles Curator of Paintings and Sculpture at the Boston Athenaeum. Dearinger discusses American NeoClassic sculptors and their patrons that are buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery. This lecture is part of the "Facets of Mount Auburn" celebration of the famous cemetery's 175th anniversary. Robert Ball Hughes model for the Statue of Alexander Hamilton is discussed at about minute 29 of this interesting 47 minute video. According to Dearinger, Robert Ball Hughes moved to Boston in 1840 and the Boston Athenaeum purchased the original plaster model for Statue of Alexander Hamilton that same year. Dearinger also discusses the Statue of Nathaniel Bowditch at about minute 30 of the video. See seven other video lectures by David B. Dearinger at Forum-Network.org. I have not watched the other videos yet to see if there are more references to Robert Ball Hughes. Please let me know if you discover any.

    With the plaster model at the Boston Athenaeum and the plaster models identified by Craven and the SIRIS records, that makes four plaster models, a bronze statuette, and a marble statuette. Are there more? 


Plaster Statuette of Alexander Hamilton
Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site
Albany, NY
Smithsonian American Art Museum on SIRIS
    The bronze and marble statuettes of  Hamilton are approximately the same 27" height as the plaster statuettes. The bronze would have been cast from a mould made from the original and the marble carved by hand after the original model. This is yet another major discovery! 

    Note that in Adolph Weinman's papers (see below), available online at Smithsonian Archives of Art, letters document how Weinman asked permission from Pierpont M. Hamilton of New York, in 1929 and again in 1939, to copy the model to make a life size statue described below. In 1929, the model was in the Hamilton family summer home, "Table Rock," in Sterlington, NY, 35 miles from New York City. In the years between the first letter and the second, the model was transferred to the Museum of the City of New York and displayed in the Hamilton Gallery.

    A handwritten paper, presumably attached to the model, states: "original model in plaster of Alexander Hamilton, for the statue cast [sic] in marble for the Merchants Exchange NY which was destroyed by fire in 1835. Approved by his widow... No copies were made from this. This is unique. This descended to the grandson of Ball Hughes from whom it was purchased April 30, 1915." Even Hardinge Scholle, the Director of the Museum of the City of New York, believed in 1939 that it was the only model.

    According to Georgia Stamm Chamberlain in the article The Ball-Hughes Statue of Alexander Hamilton, "Antiques Journal," March 1957, p. 17, Ball Hughes kept the original model after the Great Fire and sold it to the Boston Athenaeum for $25 in 1838 and a replica was made (at some point) for the Hamilton family. This appears to contradict the account in the Weinman papers above. Chamberlain has other discrepancies in her article that cause doubt about the accuracy of her information. Perhaps the model Chamberlain describes is the one now at the Schuyler Museum in Albany, NY where Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler were married.

    Provenance of the model that Weinman used is presumably: Robert Ball Hughes - Benjamin Franklin Brown - George Edward Brown or Frederick Walter Brown - Hamilton Family - Museum of the City of New York. Ball Hughes descendents may have assumed it was the only one but we know there were three or more according to Craven and the Smithsonian Art Inventories Catalog.


Weinman Statues

    The 1941 nickel-silver statue of Hamilton by Adolph Alexander Weinman (1870-1952) that sits in a niche on the front facade of the Museum of the City of New York, is based on Ball Hughes famous marble statue of Hamilton.  It's one of a pair with the statue of DeWitt Clinton, also on the front of the Museum.

    Microfilm records entitled “Adolph A. Weinman papers, 1890-1959” have been digitized and are available on the Smithsonian Archives of Art website. The papers describe how Weinman received permission from Pierpont M. Hamilton to borrow the model to make a clay mould from which to make a plaster copy. The mould was destroyed in the process of making only one cast. This would please Weinman according to the author of the letter. Weinman purchased a $5,000 insurance policy for a $40 premium to cover the original model while it was on loan to him from the Museum of the City of New York in late 1839.

    The Weinman records also include an article from the New York Times, Tuesday, January 14, 1941 entitled "Statues for Facades of Museum of the City New York". It states:
"The representation of Hamilton is based on that of an English artist, Robert Ball Hughes (1806-1868), whose statue of the statesmen was placed in the rotunda of the first Merchants Exchange on Wall Street and unveiled on March 28, 1835. It was destroyed with the building itself in the great fire in December of the same year. A small plaster model, now on exhibition at the museum, is the only remaining version of a work famous in its day, now recreated in the Weinman statue. The De Witt Clinton statue is an original work resulting from an exhaustive study of numerous contemporary portraits on the part of the artist.”
    Ball Hughes carved a plaster model in 1830 for the larger than life marble statue of Clinton for the front of Clinton Hall in New York. It was apparently never executed in marble after one was ordered by the Clinton Hall Association in February 1830 and it's not known what happened to the model.
    The two statues were dedicated in 1941.  The Hamilton statue by Weinman is also described in www.forgottendelights.com.  See Flickr for photos of the statues at the MCNY.
    Museum Plant has nice photos of the Weinman statues with descriptions.  The Central Park Tour Slide #176 is the Hamilton statue and Slide #177 is the Clinton statue.  In the box below each photo is a scrollable text box that contains a description of the statue and short biographies of Weinman and the subject of the photo.  Slide #175 shows the front of the Museum with the Hamilton statue on the left.
Do you have any information about plaster models of Hamilton and the bronze and marble statuettes?

last update 3/25/2013

For noncommercial use, Copyright David E. Brown 2008-2013
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