(1848-1907), one of America's greatest sculptors, played a major
role in 19th century American cultural life. Evolving his naturalistic
style from his studies in Europe, he applied it to American
subjects and thus redefined sculpture in the U. S. and helped
to educate the American public about the arts. Saint-Gaudens
is perhaps best known for his Civil War monuments including
the Sherman Monument, Adams Memorial, Shaw Memorial, and his
statues of Abraham Lincoln. His portrait reliefs, well over
half of his 200 commissions, have been called the finest ever
produced in America.
He was born in Dublin,
Ireland as the son of a French shoemaker and Irish mother, but
he came to New York with the family at the age of six months.
He showed an immediate aptitude for art, and at 13 he began
a series of apprenticeships with master cameo cutters and took
night classes at the Cooper Union and National Academy of Design.
In 1867, he went to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris,
at the time an essential stopover for Americans with artistic
ambitions. In Paris, he learned about traditional art and observed
the growing interest in realism among French sculptors. In 1870,
Saint-Gaudens left France and spent five years in Rome studying
classical art such as the 15th century Italian reliefs he admired
and working on his first commissions. Here, he also met an American
art student, Augusta Homer, whom he married in 1877. Upon his
return to America, he adapted the vigor and naturalism he had
experienced in Paris and Rome to American subjects at a time
when a new American style was beginning to replace the public's
fascination with Europe. In 1876 he received his first major
commission; a monument to Civil War Admiral David Glasgow Farragut.
Unveiled in New York's Madison Square in 1881, the monument
was a tremendous success; its combination of realism and allegory,
a departure from previous American sculpture. Saint-Gaudens'
fame grew, and other commissions were quickly forthcoming. He
became friendly with such major figures as Stanford White, H.
H. Richardson, and artist John Le Farge, a new American creative
class building a unique American art based on traditions of
He rose to prominence
in the years following the Civil War when America was transforming
from a provincial agrarian country into a more modern industrial
nation with an increasingly sophisticated culture of its own.
Saint-Gaudens along with Daniel Chester French (1859-1931) changed
the perceptions in the U. S. of sculpture and made it popular
once again among younger artists. He was an instructor at the
Art Students League from 1888 to 1896 and influenced others
through his leadership of the Society of American Artists and
the National Sculpture Society. The American sculptors benefited
from the demand for commemorative statues following the Civil
War. He created memorable works including his "Standing
Lincoln" in Chicago and General William Tecumseh Sherman
in New York City. In addition, the country's growing wealth
in the Gilded Age and exposure to fine sculpture during the
1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago added to the demand.
In fact, Saint-Gaudens helped plan the decorations for the fair
and served on the MacMillan Commission with Charles F. McKim,
Daniel H. Burnham, and Frederick Law Olmsted which made recommendations
in 1900 for the preservation and improvement of Washington,
DC. Over the years, he depicted figures ranging from Mary Queen
of Scots to George Washington, and he executed exquisite medallions
for vases and candelabras for Tiffany & Co. He did interior
decorations for many of the great mansions in Manhattan including
those for Cornelius Vanderbilt and Henry Villard.
Toward the end of his
career, Saint-Gaudens contracted cancer soon after being asked
to be the first professional sculptor to create designs for
US coins. President Theodore Roosevelt was so pleased with the
medal he produced for his inauguration in 1905 that he asked
him to redesign the nation's $10 and $20 gold pieces. Both coins-
a $10 piece featuring Liberty with a Native American headdress
and a standing eagle on the reverse and a $20 piece with Liberty
on one side and a flying eagle on the other- were issued in
1907, the same year the sculptor died. Saint-Gaudens combined
his diverse exposure to the world's sculpture styles and techniques
into a fresh, naturalistic realism, and he introduced Americans
in large numbers to art through his public statues and works.
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