Patrick Henry: Liberty or Death
According to the SIRIS database, the statuette is owned by a private collector near Boston.News Flash 3/3/2012: The statuette of Patrick Henry shown above may have been misidentified and there are two or more different versions of it.
Statuette of Gen. Warren,
by B. Hughes
Image courtesy of the Owner
Another statuette of Patrick Henry has been found in the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, VA. In the article, Patrick Henry: Sentinel for the People, William Rasmussen of the Virginia Historical Society wrote of it:
Note that in the 1830's, Ball Hughes survived the Cholera of 1832 in New York after fleeing the city and he lived through the Panic of 1837. These events no doubt had an effect on Ball Hughes poverty and lack of patronage.
The statuette that William Rasmussen referred to was on loan to the Virginia Historical Society from the Chrysler Museum of Art at the time. That statuette, [available here] is similar to the statuette of Patrick Henry by Ball Hughes (shown at the top of this page) that is listed on the Smithsonian SIRIS database. The one at the Chrysler Museum of Art is much smaller and not as detailed as that one. It's at 11 1/2" high painted plaster. “Liberty or Death” is inscribed on both bases. The shape of the bases is different and the angle of the upraised sword is different.
The Smithsonian SIRIS database also lists another statuette of Patrick Henry, owned by the Chrysler Museum of Art. The medium is described as "pink wax, painted." There is no other information about it. This would make three different statuettes found to date.
An unknown author wrote the following in the Poem about Ball Hughes, supposedly in 1852:
General Warren is a very spirited statuette of the American patriot General Joseph Warren, Jr. (1741-1775) at Bunker Hill. Gen. Joseph Warren was from Suffolk County, MA, the county that includes Boston. The statuette was completed in 1858 according to the Crayon, Vol. 5, No.3, Mar. 1858, pp. 84-89 [?] and the Cosmopolitan Art Journal, Vol. 2, No. 4, Sept. 1858, pp. 207-209 [?]. I don’t have the text of either of these articles. I question the date of 1852 for the poem above because of the reference to the General Warren statuette. Also, Ball Hughes did most of his poker sketches in the 1850’s (after about 1853) and the 1860’s.
From the Wikipedia entry for Joseph Warren:
The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill, June 17, 1775
John Trumbull, 1786
Col. John Trumbull painted the scene (shown above): The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill, June 17, 1775 showing the mortally wounded Gen. Warren on the ground and another American soldier with an upraised sword. Ball Hughes may have used this painting as his inspiration for the statuette.
John Trumbull was a famous American patriot and the “Painter of the Revolution.” The elder Trumbull befriended Ball Hughes when he arrived in New York from England in 1829. See New York:1829-1838.
I did a quick search and discovered that the Patrick Henry statuette(s) may have been mislabeled by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and by the Chrysler Museum of Art. Patrick Henry was a politician and governor of Virginia. "Liberty or Death" is attributed to a speech that he gave on March 23, 1775.
"Liberty or Death" became a motto of the Revolutionary War and someone may have mistakenly assumed that because Ball Hughes put the "Liberty or Death" motto on the base of the statuette, that the subject was Patrick Henry. No other records of a statuette of Patrick Henry by Robert Ball Hughes have been found.
Several of Ball Hughes' popular works were copied by making a plaster mould (plaster cast) of the original and then casting a copy of the original, in plaster or bronze. These included the statuette of Alexander Hamilton, the bust of Gen. Warren, and a bust of Washington Irving. The three statuettes identified above as being of Patrick Henry appear to be different sizes and different mediums (plaster or wax).