Late Nineteenth Century Sculptors
Daniel Chester French
Daniel Chester French and his contemporary Augustus Saint-Gaudens became two of the most successful sculptors in America in the late nineteenth century.
Daniel Chester French was born in Exeter, New Hampshire in 1850. French was a widely acclaimed sculptor of public monuments whose work has been woven into the fabric of America’s history, as he was regarded as America’s preeminent monumental sculptor. He is best known for his colossal seated figure of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. French studied in Boston prior to receiving his first commission for the 1875 statue The Minute Man that stands on the green in Concord, Massachusetts and commemorates the battle of Lexington and Concord. An American icon, images of The Minute Man statue appeared on stamps, posters and war bonds during World War II. A founder of the National Sculpture Society, French also collaborated with a number of the leading architects of the time including Cass Gilbert and Charles McKim of the firm McKim, Mead and White.
French also created portrait busts and reliefs which display a naturalistic style on an intimate scale. He completed the bronze relief sculpture of young Jennie Delano (Jennie Delano, 1898) at “Chesterwood,” his summer home and studio near Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Jennie, a cousin of Franklin D. Roosevelt, was nine when the relief was made. According to a family tradition, Jennie wanted to be shown patting the nose of her favorite pony, but because the horse dominated the portrait, French decided to substitute a bunch of flowers instead of using the horse’s image.
Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) was born in Ireland and brought to America as a child. Trained as a cameo cutter, where he learned to cultivate the skill of intricate carving, his reputation was established with the bronze and stone Admiral Farragut Monument, 1878-1881, located in Madison Square Park in New York. This heroic monument, like many of his others, was done in collaboration with architect Stanford White and is typical of Saint-Gaudens’ style in its blend of realism and idealism (a blend of real and ideal).
Saint-Gaudens was considered the creative genius of late 19th century American sculpture. He could take the ordinary and transform it into something monumental. He produced enduring and distinctive public sculpture including the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial on Boston Common, which he completed in 1897. Described by Saint-Gaudens as a ‘symphony in bronze,’ the sculpture took him fourteen years to finish. Built in honor of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, (the first all-black regiment recruited to fight for the Union Army during the Civil War,) the regiment bravely led an attack on Ft. Wagner, South Carolina in 1863. Colonel Robert Gould Shaw died along with 270 of his men during this attack. The sculpture of the men of the 54th Regiment celebrates their bravery.
Saint-Gaudens’ sculpture of the goddess Diana, inspired by an earlier bust of his model and mistress, Davida Clark, was first conceived as a finial or weathervane on top of Stanford White’s Madison Square Garden in New York City. The copper-gilded figure was installed atop the tower in 1893. It was the first statue in New York to be lit at night by electricity. It was also Saint-Gaudens only female nude and became a touchstone for controversies and public criticism about nudity in art and real versus ideal in art. The statue was a source of endless humor for cartoonists and social satirists alike. Saint-Gaudens produced several editions of the Diana in two reduced versions. The Diana (1894) at the Currier Museum of Art is a reduced version. It is a twenty-one inch Diana holding a bow atop a sphere, with the whole mounted on a marble-cube base.
Source: Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, www. sgnhs.org.