A 19th-century plaster bust of Thomas Jefferson, a copy of a marble portrait made in the 18th century by French sculptor Jean Antonie Houdon, is among 21 works of art "relocated" in the White House and staff offices this week. The works were found by a three-person art squad from the National Collection of Fine Arts, which owns them.
The search party, which consists of one curator and two staff members from the NCFA registrar's office, began a planned sweep of the White House, Executive Office Buildings, Blair House and Camp David last Friday. They are seeking 257 prints, watercolors, paintings and sculptures lent to White House staff members since 1946, before stringent loan arrangements were instituted 10 years ago. The works are currently listed as "unlocated" by the museum.
"The Jefferson bust is not a major work of art," said NCFA registrar Robert Johnston, but it is of historical importance to the collection because it was a very early acquisition, purchased in 1861.
"This bust is a long way from Houdon," said NCFA curator William Truettner. "It is a fairly free copy made from Houdon's original 1789 bust of Jefferson, now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts." According to Truettner, it was made by Henry D. Saunders, a Lithuanian-born sculptor who came to Washington in 1857, and it was purchased directly from him.
The bust was found in a White House storage area, but will not be recalled for now. "We want to complete the entire inventory before we do anything like that," said Johnston.
Working half days, two at a time, the art squad spent only two sessions at the White House before completing their mission there, with 11 works of art crossed off the "unlocated" list. "But that's the easy part," said Johnston.
After four more sessions at the old Executive Office Building, during which several floors were searched, 20 more items turned up, "probably all prints," said Johnston, who had not yet had time to tabulate the findings.
Next week the squad will continue to work at the old and new EOB. "We've got a long way to go," said Johnston.
Two hundred and thirty six items, to be exact.
Asked if the hunt were proving to be fun, one art squad member demurred, "It's a lot of things, but fun isn't one of them."