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Why is a statue of George Washington located in London, England?

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One example of a memorial used as a means of reconciliation is that of a bronze statue of George Washington which stands in front of London's National Gallery that was offered to the United Kingdom to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Commonwealth of Virginia. It was unveiled on 30 June 1921 at the eastern extremity of the east lawn and was moved to its current central position in 1948 to create symmetry with the statue of James II on the west lawn. This statue is an authentic reproduction of French artist Jean-Antoine Houdon's (25 March 1741 – 15 July 1828) original 1796 marble statue that was commissioned by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia "as a monument of affection and gratitude." The statue contains a careful balance of elements characterizing his life as a soldier, statesman, and private citizen. Washington, wearing his Revolutionary uniform, is carrying a walking cane with his right hand and is standing beside a plowshare - the agricultural foundation of the nation; while his left hand is comfortably resting on a makeshift pillar of fasces – a Roman emblem of authority – consisting of thirteen bound staves representing the thirteen states of the union against which his sword and riding cloak are hanging over it.

With the death of Washington in 1799 and with the U.S. participation during the First World War in 1917-1918, the collective memory of these two countries had time to pacify and the state of Virginia noted an opportunity to mend fences with a former enemy, to help restore peace and co-operation among these two countries, and of course to praise America's 'first citizen'. The gift was presented by a Virginia delegation and was accepted by Earl Curzon of Kedleston (11 January 1859 – 20 March 1925), British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and former viceroy of India. Professor Henry Louis Smith (30 July 1859 – 27 February 1951), the head of the American delegation and president of Washington and Lee University, said in his presentation address that: "Virginia's plea and that of the English-speaking nations of the world, so recently united in war, should unite again for the more complex task of peace, and in the closest and most unselfish co-operation enter at once upon a joint program of world leadership and reconstruction". Undeniably, this bronze statue which was originally planned for Westminster Hall was an unsolicited gift that helped mark peace among two rival nations who became allies during times of war which so far, has proved to stand the test of time. On this day, 30 June 2022, we mark the 101st anniversary of the unveiling of George Washington's statue in London, England.

André M. Levesque

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