The bronze life-size sculpture of Mahatma Gandhi at the spinning wheel was sculpted from life at Sewagram Ashram by sculptor, Clara Quien in 1946-47.  

The statue is owned by the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Foundation which was incorporated in Washington, DC in 1959 and located in the Gandhi Memorial Center. The Gandhi Memorial Center was dedicated in 1976 by the Founder Swami Premananda, Founding Director Srimati Kamala, and the then Ambassador of India to the United States, T.N. Kaul.  

The statue was initially on loan to the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Foundation beginning in 1969. Eventually, the artist felt the Gandhi Memorial Center should be the permanent home for the sculpture and, though there were offers from other potential buyers, she eventually sold the Gandhi statue to the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Foundation for the price of the clay.  

The Gandhi statue was displayed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC in 1969 for the Centennial Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

In 1995 the Gandhi statue was displayed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC for the 125th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi when the “Moha-Mudgar” dance-drama based on Swami Shankarachariya’s 16-verse text was presented by the Gandhi Memorial Center in collaboration with the Embassy of India.

Clara Quien, sculptor

About the Artist:

Clara Quien (1903 to 1987) was a British artist and humanitarian, the only sculptress granted the privilege of sculpting a life size statue of Gandhi from life. 

Clara Quien was born in England and spent much of her childhood in and out of China. Her father was the financial director of the company in charge of making the Wang Poo River navigable from the Yellow Sea to Shanghai. He also directed the construction of Cheefoo Harbor.

As a very young woman, Clara studied in Switzerland. She then went on to Florence to study under the late Maestro Andreotti. In Florence she studied carving, casting and the history of art. From Florence her art studies took Clara to Berlin, Amsterdam, and Paris. Her first one-woman exhibition in Amsterdam brought her great acclaim.

In 1935 Clara Quien travelled overland by car with her mother to India and there, Clara married a Dutch architect, F.J. Hopman. They settled at Srinagar, Kashmir.  One of Clara’s great pieces of work, her life-size Pieta, was the outcome of a walk in the hills of Kashmir one wintry day with her tiny children. She said that as they walked through the glorious country with the beautiful flowers actually growing up through the ice, surrounded by mounds of green moss like benches adorned by crystals of ice, she meditated on the violence of man, and realized her Pieta must be done.

Clara explained that as a child she returned to China with her father on a train through Russia, just after the tsar was killed, and the sad sights that she saw on this journey stayed in her memory always. Because of this preoccupation with the violence of man against man, she did a series of 34 anti-war sculptures that were housed in the Peace House in The Hague until the sculptures were destroyed by the Nazis.

Clara attempted to stress in her Pieta, the sorrow suffering of those left behind after death. Through her life-size pieta, “Love One Another,” which she offered for philanthropic purposes, she met Mohandas Gandhi, who placed this work in the garden of his museum at Wardha after it had brought in a large sum of money for the village uplift movement.

It was through this statue that Clara came to meet Gandhi and to do a life-size sculpture of him.  

“He was a man totally free of hatred,” Clara said, “and he was full of jokes, but never at the expense of anyone.” 

The life-size statue of Gandhi was sculpted in clay at Wardha and then sent to Italy to be cast in bronze.  From there it traveled to California before it was presented to the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Foundation, Inc. in Washington, DC.

Meeting and sculpting Gandhi was a turning point in her career. She was later commissioned to model Pandit Nehru and his daughter, Maharajas, and the last Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten and his wife. In portraying all these personalities Clara Quien used her capacity to complete her work in a few hours without people posing for her.

Her reputation as a portraitist spread to Persia where she sculpted Princess Ashraf, a bronze equestrian statue of the Shah and several princes.

Back in Bombay in 1951 she received the highest award for sculpture for her “Return of Gautama” at the annual Art Exhibition.

In 1952 she returned to Europe to join her children in Goldern, Switzerland.  

In 1957 Clara Quien completed a large winged-lion and eleven bronze line panels in cooperation with F.J. Hopman for decoration of the Mehrabad Airport, Tehran. She then continued to paint well over a hundred non-figurative pictures visualized from music and dreams; as well as a number of garden and other sculptures. She also taught modeling of clay and lectured on a wide variety of subjects, including Gandhian ideals.