This is an idealized portrait bust of Washington, not a faithful copying of nature. The sculpture, made in the Neo-classical style (one based on a renewal of the Classical styles of Ancient Greece and Rome) depicts Washington not in contemporary dress, but as a Greek nobleman or Roman senator draped in a toga. (In the 19th century, this was standard garb for the depiction of public figures.) The toga gives Washington heroic stature by linking him to the Roman republic and the ideals it represented. This is fortified by his jowls and prominent wrinkles, which underline his age, wisdom, and dignity.
Powers' extraordinary skill in the technique of sculpting marble is evident in the range of textures he has carved convincingly (such as skin, hair, and cloth) so that they appear soft and pliable despite this very hard stone.
This work displays Powers' tremendous admiration for Washington, which he expressed in a letter to the Secretary of State of Louisiana saying, "I suppose Washington to have been greatest, when, by his own voluntary act, he did all he could to make himself least. . . His retirement from public life to domestic pursuits was the crowning glory of Washington." Washington's refusal to serve a third term in office endeared him to many Americans as someone who acted in the best interests of his country rather than for personal gain. This characteristic inspired a well-known comparison between Washington and the legendary Roman figure of Cincinnatus, a farmer who left his plow, picked up arms and fought when called upon, returned home when his duty was done, and expected no recognition or compensation for serving his country. This comparison provided yet another parallel between the colonies and the ancient Romans.