Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), the leading American sculptor of the late 19th century, is best known for his bronze historical memorials.
Augustus Saint-Gaudens was born in Dublin, Ireland, on March 1, 1848, and taken to America as an infant. He grew up in New York City. At the age of 13 he was apprenticed to a cameo cutter, and he later attended classes at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design. In 1867 he went to Paris, where he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, and in 1870 he left for Rome. His marble Hiawatha and Silence, carved in Rome, were his only significant works in the still prevalent neoclassic style.
Shortly after Saint-Gaudens returned to the United States in 1875, he received the commission for the Adm. Farragut monument in Madison Square, New York City. This work, which was completed in 1881, is imbued with the spirit of the early Renaissance, and it established his reputation. It was the first of a number of memorials relating to the Civil War. In the Farragut monument he combines the idealistic sense of the heroic with vivid portraiture. The base is adorned with extremely delicate low-relief sculptures, a form which Saint-Gaudens revived from the Renaissance. He had already achieved success in low-relief portraits.
Saint-Gaudens next executed a sculpture of Abraham Lincoln standing in front of a Renaissance chair (1887) for Lincoln Park, Chicago. As in the Farragut, he was associated with the architect Sanford White in constructing the base. Saint-Gaudens's Puritan (1887), a memorial to Deacon Samuel Chapin in Springfield, Mass., is an eloquent embodiment of early New England Puritanism. His next major Civil War monument was the complex memorial to Robert Gould Shaw (1884-1897), who had led the first regiment of Negro troops from Massachusetts and died during the conflict in 1863. This monument, opposite the State House in Boston, has a high-relief equestrian statue and other figures in varying depths of relief.
Probably Saint-Gaudens's best-known work is his memorial to Gen. Sherman (1892-1903) in Central Park, New York City, a work which blends realism and idealism. The figure of Victory is based on the ancient Victory of Samothrace, and the great equestrian statue is related to Donatello's 15th-century Gattamelata. Diana (1892; now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art) is Saint-Gaudens's one ideal nude. Perhaps his most moving and affecting sculpture is the figure sometimes entitled Grief (1891-1893), the monument to Mrs. Henry Adams in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C. The inscrutable, enigmatic form is a touching embodiment of personal grief and tragedy, the greatest of all the allegories of death of the period.
Saint-Gaudens was eminently successful in his own time. He was the leader in the artistic community which grew up around his estate at Cornish, N. H. He died there on Aug. 3, 1907, and his house and studio have been preserved as the Saint-Gaudens Memorial.
Further Reading on Augustus Saint-Gaudens
A definitive study of Saint-Gaudens by John Dryfhout was in preparation as of 1972. Useful works are Royal Cortissoz, Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1907), and The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, edited by Homer Saint-Gaudens (2 vols., 1913).
Additional Biography Sources
Wilkinson, Burke, The life and works of Augustus Saint Gaudens, New York: Dover; Gerrards Cross, England: C. Smythe, 1992.