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Augustus Saint-Gaudens (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 classical art.

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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