Friday, January 18, 2013

You are Invited...

What did your inauguration invitation look like?  For the lucky people who received invitations to one of the inaugural balls, it’s exciting just being able to attend.  But what would you think if you got this one, to Ulysses S. Grant’s 1869 inauguration reception? 

Produced by Philip & Solomon, a Washington, DC printer, it bears images of two female figures with a bust of the newly elected President framing the text along with other objects ranging from a sheaf of wheat to an artist’s palate.  Looking closely at each element of this composition, the elements relay symbolic meaning.  The symbols convey how the General Committee viewed their new leader.

Many of the symbols are common Revolution-era, American emblems.  The figure of a woman to the right wears a crown of stars and holds a staff, topped with a Phrygian cap .  This cap, a symbol of liberty, along with her classical garments denote this woman as Columbia.  She would also gradually become a personification of America.  Her crown of stars is an interesting addition; usually Columbia wears the Phrygian cap or a laurel wreath.  Where did the crown of stars come from?  If you could take the statue off of the top of the Capitol dome, Freedom in War and Peace, for a closer look you might find the answer.  The work was installed in 1863 by Thomas Crawford.  Many casual observers have misidentified this statue as that of a Native American, but it’s actually a female personification of Freedom.  In the original designs, she wore a Phrygian cap, but Jefferson Davis, soon to become President of the Confederacy, objected to the symbol of emancipation and ordered a change.  The cap became a plumed military helmet crested with stars.  This work, having recently been placed on top of the Capitol, is a possible reference for Columbia’s starred headdress in the invitation.[1]

Opposite Columbia is the personification of Victory.  Depicted with wings and holding a palm branch, the Greek goddess Nike sprinkles flowers on the abundant harvest of wheat and pumpkins.  A plow is depicted amid the corn stalks which curl around and in front of a fallen cannon.  A tall ship sails beneath her outstretched arm.  Below Columbia, who came to be known as Lady Liberty, a cornucopia is mixed with papers, books, an artist’s palate and a gavel for a judge.  An image of the Capitol building is depicted behind her.  These images remind me of the John Adams quote “I must study Politicks [sic] and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks [sic] and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks [sic] and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick [sic], Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine [sic] (12 May 1780).   Although coming out of a different war from Adams, anyone who saw the end of the Civil War would have looked forward to a time of peace where their children would be able to divert themselves from the images of bayonets and dead soldiers on the battlefield of Antietam.
Atop the text a bust of Grant is crowned with the laurel wreath of victory and is encircled by a flower garland and oak leaves.  Grant’s bust is classically draped to match the other figures and very faintly behind his head is the phrase “Let us have peace.” Coming from when he accepted the Republican Presidential nomination, these four words closed his speech and became the slogan for his campaign.  Anyone who had just survived the Civil War and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln must have welcomed this idea.  This call for peace must have made even more of an impact since it came from a military commander, the triumphant victor of that war between the North and the South.  All of the images tie together to reinforce the vision of a united country: working the land, creating export items.  With “Columbia” and “Victory” to support the country and their new leader to guide them, these efforts would be rewarded with abundance, learning, and beauty. 


[1] David Hackett Fischer, Liberty and Freedom, (Oxford University Press: New York, 2005), 298-300.

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Covering exhibits at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery and giving you a peek into the Permanent Collection of the George Washington University.

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Howard Hodgkin: Paintings - May 16, 2012

Friday, January 18, 2013

You are Invited...

What did your inauguration invitation look like?  For the lucky people who received invitations to one of the inaugural balls, it’s exciting just being able to attend.  But what would you think if you got this one, to Ulysses S. Grant’s 1869 inauguration reception? 

Produced by Philip & Solomon, a Washington, DC printer, it bears images of two female figures with a bust of the newly elected President framing the text along with other objects ranging from a sheaf of wheat to an artist’s palate.  Looking closely at each element of this composition, the elements relay symbolic meaning.  The symbols convey how the General Committee viewed their new leader.

Many of the symbols are common Revolution-era, American emblems.  The figure of a woman to the right wears a crown of stars and holds a staff, topped with a Phrygian cap .  This cap, a symbol of liberty, along with her classical garments denote this woman as Columbia.  She would also gradually become a personification of America.  Her crown of stars is an interesting addition; usually Columbia wears the Phrygian cap or a laurel wreath.  Where did the crown of stars come from?  If you could take the statue off of the top of the Capitol dome, Freedom in War and Peace, for a closer look you might find the answer.  The work was installed in 1863 by Thomas Crawford.  Many casual observers have misidentified this statue as that of a Native American, but it’s actually a female personification of Freedom.  In the original designs, she wore a Phrygian cap, but Jefferson Davis, soon to become President of the Confederacy, objected to the symbol of emancipation and ordered a change.  The cap became a plumed military helmet crested with stars.  This work, having recently been placed on top of the Capitol, is a possible reference for Columbia’s starred headdress in the invitation.[1]

Opposite Columbia is the personification of Victory.  Depicted with wings and holding a palm branch, the Greek goddess Nike sprinkles flowers on the abundant harvest of wheat and pumpkins.  A plow is depicted amid the corn stalks which curl around and in front of a fallen cannon.  A tall ship sails beneath her outstretched arm.  Below Columbia, who came to be known as Lady Liberty, a cornucopia is mixed with papers, books, an artist’s palate and a gavel for a judge.  An image of the Capitol building is depicted behind her.  These images remind me of the John Adams quote “I must study Politicks [sic] and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks [sic] and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks [sic] and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick [sic], Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine [sic] (12 May 1780).   Although coming out of a different war from Adams, anyone who saw the end of the Civil War would have looked forward to a time of peace where their children would be able to divert themselves from the images of bayonets and dead soldiers on the battlefield of Antietam.
Atop the text a bust of Grant is crowned with the laurel wreath of victory and is encircled by a flower garland and oak leaves.  Grant’s bust is classically draped to match the other figures and very faintly behind his head is the phrase “Let us have peace.” Coming from when he accepted the Republican Presidential nomination, these four words closed his speech and became the slogan for his campaign.  Anyone who had just survived the Civil War and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln must have welcomed this idea.  This call for peace must have made even more of an impact since it came from a military commander, the triumphant victor of that war between the North and the South.  All of the images tie together to reinforce the vision of a united country: working the land, creating export items.  With “Columbia” and “Victory” to support the country and their new leader to guide them, these efforts would be rewarded with abundance, learning, and beauty. 


[1] David Hackett Fischer, Liberty and Freedom, (Oxford University Press: New York, 2005), 298-300.

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Washington, District of Columbia, United States
"Found In Collection" or simply "FIC" is the way many museums classify the more mysterious items in their possession that have little or no documentation. Here at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery of the George Washington University, we do keep extensive records of our collection, but some of the items we come across in academic buildings or our own storage can leave us wondering. This blog is an effort to showcase some of the more curious examples and their stories, and to provide a glimpse of the great variety of art pieces within the collection. To learn more about the Brady Gallery's history, recent exhibitions, or the George Washington University, take a look at the links below.

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