General George B. McClellan (1826-1885) on a Horse
Lead and hammered copper
Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller; S.935.1.112
Long an important feature of the architectural landscapes of Europe, weathervanes also became ubiquitous on the barns, churches, and private homes of rural America. The earliest American examples took the shape of iron banners, with bold geometric cutout patterns. As the nineteenth century progressed, weathervanes appeared in the form of Native Americans, farm animals, race horses, buggies, and patriotic motifs such as eagles and Liberty figures. They were handmade by individuals until the middle of the nineteenth century, when large companies began to produce a wide variety of models that could be ordered by mail or purchased in hardware stores. This design may have been a special commission, since no other weathervanes depicting Union General George B. McClellan are known. It was likely based on the images of McClellan that abounded in print form and other media during the Civil War and particularly around the time of his unsuccessful bid for the United States presidency in 1864. As in so much of the popular imagery, he is shown here on horseback, his stature signaled by his erect bearing, epaulette, and sword. McClellan capitalized on his military career during his campaign, despite the fact that his disastrous lack of decisiveness led him to be relieved of his command in 1862. The hollow body of the horse was formed by hammering copper in a wooden mold, while the figure was probably shaped by hand. The head of the horse and man are cast of solid zinc, which not only captured fine surface details but helped to equalize the weight in front of and behind a weathervane’s pivot point. Several bullet holes indicate that someone used it for target practice, probably an ongoing temptation with such pieces.
Last Updated: 4/29/09