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Patrick Henry Statuette(s) or Gen. Joseph Warren?

Patrick Henry: Liberty or Death
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Art Inventories Catalog
Image S9D630004_b.jpg available on SIRIS

    The Smithsonian American Art Museum's 
Art Inventories Catalog on the SIRIS database has a record for Patrick Henry: Liberty or Death, (sculpture) by Robert Ball Hughes. The SIRIS record states that the 26" high plaster statuette is inscribed "Liberty or Death" on the base. The description says:

"Full-length portrait of Patrick Henry. He holds his drawn sword in his upraised proper right hand and points downward with his proper left hand. His hat is on the ground behind him."

    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
Langenheim 1858
Stereoscopic Card
Image courtesy of the Owner

Closeup View

Recently the owner of the stereo photo shown above of the statuette of Gen. Warren contacted me. There is a label on the back of the photo that indicates that it is by Langenheim (Brothers) and it is dated 1858, the year the statuette of Gen. Warren was made in Boston. The photo is almost identical to what I thought was a statuette of Patrick Henry. The statuette of Gen. Warren probably depicts him before his death at the Battle of Bunker Hill on July 17, 1775.

    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:

"Henry's military role was celebrated well into the nineteenth century. In the 1830s, Robert Ball Hughes depicted this side of Henry's public service with a small, standing sculpture of the Virginia colonel. This fragile plaster figure is one of many by Hughes never put into marble or bronze due to the artist's poverty and lack of patronage."

    The article appeared in the February - March 1996 issue of American Art Review. The article is available on the scholarly Traditional Fine Arts Organization website. 

    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. 

    We know that Ball Hughes made a plaster statuette of Gen. Warren in 1858. Of it, his wife Eliza Ball Hughes wrote in the Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes by Mrs. E. Ball Hughes, p.25

"Now my memory recalls a statuette of General Scott . and a superb one of General Warren of which R C Winthrop was a great admirer _ S. D. Warren and B. F. Brown also had casts of it _ I always thought it one of Mr. Hughes best works.  This was done at the suggestion of a friend, who hoped that when seen by the Committee . it would get him an order for a Large one"

    An unknown author wrote the following in the Poem about Ball Hughes, supposedly in 1852:

"View General Warren, see him in the fight,
His sword upraised, his eyes alive with light--
All these and many more attest the fame
Spread all abroad attached to Hughes’s name."

    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:

"Dr. Joseph Warren (June 11, 1741 – June 17, 1775) was an American doctor who played a leading role in American Patriot organizations in Boston in early days of the American Revolution, eventually serving as president of the revolutionary Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Warren enlisted Paul Revere and William Dawes on April 18, 1775, to leave Boston and spread the alarm that the British garrison in Boston was setting out to raid the town of Concord and arrest rebel leaders John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Warren participated in the next day's Battles of Lexington and Concord, which are commonly considered to be the opening engagements of the American Revolutionary War.

Warren had been commissioned a Major General in the colony's militia shortly before the June 17, 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill. Rather than exercising his rank, Warren served in the battle as a private soldier, and was killed in combat when British troops stormed the redoubt atop Breed's Hill. His death, immortalized in John Trumbull's painting, The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill, June 17, 1775, galvanized the rebel forces, and he has been memorialized in many place names in the United States."

The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill, June 17, 1775

John Trumbull, 1786
from Wikipedia

   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).

last update 4/26/2012

For noncommercial use, Copyright David E. Brown 2008-2012

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