Ladies Love George and Gil: the Virginia State Capitol

Bonus post before bed!

Another quick side trip on the way to someplace else: the Virginia State Capitol.

Sadly, I don’t have much to show or say about the capitol itself. For this visit, I was on a mission, and since I drove to Richmond, Va., from Tennessee this time, I had only 30 minutes before closing to complete it.

My mission: to see the Houdon bust of the Marquis de Lafayette (commissioned by the state of Virginia and based on a life mask of Lafayette).

(Of course, there was also the full-sized Houdon statue of Washington, also based on a life mask, and yeah, I saw that too, but MISSION, you guys. I was on one.)

And I saw it. Now you can, too.


I didn’t have a lot of time to be picky about the photos by the time I got there, but by this angle, you may note that the bust was way up high off the ground in an alcove. You know. To keep the ladies off of it.

Here’s as good of a close-up as I could get given that I only had a few minutes, I was in the state capitol, and I didn’t want to come off as a terrorist:


The Houdon busts that I’ve seen done from life masks always seem like the face is pasted on the head, thus making the head seem longer from front to back than it otherwise should. Given that all the portraits I’ve seen of Lafayette give him an frighteningly receding hairline and a nose that seems to start behind his ears (adorable though it may be), this may not be entirely inaccurate here. Also, it’s not as pronounced from this side as it is from the other.

Houdon also did a life mask of Washington from which he sculpted a full-length statue (also here in the Virginia State Capitol) and some busts. I like the way that the Washington statue is positioned as though it’s looking out to Lafayette’s bust on the wall almost at his eye level. For those not in the know, Washington considered Lafayette as an adopted son, so I find this very sweet.


You’ll note that little fence around George. Also for the ladies. (As evidenced by this letter in which George gives Lafayette some crap threatens to steal the Marquise Adrienne from our good friend the Marquis:)

But at present must pray your patience a while longer, till I can make a tender of my most respectful compliments to the Marchioness. Tell her (if you have not made  a mistake, and offered your own love instead of hers to me) that I have a heart susceptable of the tenderest passion, and that it is already so strongly impressed with the most favourable ideas of her, that she must be cautious of putting loves torch to it; as you must be in fanning the flame. But here again methinks I hear you say, I am not apprehensive of danger. My wife is young, you are growing old and the atlantic is between you. All this is true, but know my good friend that no distance can keep anxious lovers long asunder, and that the Wonders of former ages may be revived in this. But alas! will you not remark that amidst all the wonders recorded in holy writ no instance can be produced where a young Woman from real inclination has prefered an old man. This is so much against me that I shall not be able I fear to contest the prize with you, yet, under the encouragement you have given me I shall enter the list for so inestimable a Jewell.

George Washington to the Marquis de Lafayette, September 30, 1779

Before I go, I should give the Washington statue it’s due. It’s based on this life mask, and I always find it stunning to look at Washington’s true face in comparison to the multitudes of less accurate portraits with which Americans are bombarded throughout their lives. In that life mask is a very real face that I could imagine seeing somewhere on the street today.


So, it is little surprise to me that Lafayette declared this statue the most accurate likeness of Washington upon his return visit to the States in 1824.


Bonne nuit!

* * *

Virginia State Capitol
1000 Bank Street; Richmond, VA
Hours and Tour Information
Free admission (though parking is a pain)
Capitol Tour Desk: (804) 698-1788 or


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