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Augustus Saint Gaudens: American Sculptor of the Guilded Age
Heroism and nobility, sophistication and superb craftsmanship, the height of elegance and the end of an era -- these are the elements of the North Carolina Museum of Art's exhibition Augustus Saint Gaudens: American Sculptor of the Guilded Age, a comprehensive survey of this American master's career. The exhibition, featuring approximately 75 of the sculptor's works, begins its national tour at the Museum Feb. 23 - May 11, 2003. (left: Augustus Saint Gaudens, 1905, photograph by D.C. Ward, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site)
"Two years ago, visitors delighted in our landmark exhibition of sculptures by Auguste Rodin," said Museum Director Lawrence J. Wheeler. "We trust that in early 2003 they will also embrace this American contemporary of Rodin's -- a sculptor whose work epitomized the glories of the Gilded Age and set the highest standards of craftsmanship at the turn of the last century."
The exhibition includes both finished works in cast bronze and numerous studies for monuments including David Farragut (1875-81); Diana (1886); Abraham Lincoln (1884-87); Gen. William T. Sherman (1892-1903); and three of the artist's most celebrated works: The Puritan (1883-86), the Shaw Memorial (1883-97) and the Adams Memorial (1886-91), the latter commissioned by writer and philosopher Henry Adams as a tomb monument for his wife. The inclusion of preliminary studies grants viewers an understanding of the sculptor's creative process, marked by intense thought and considerable trial and error. (right: Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), Abraham Lincoln, 1885, bronze, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site)
"These large civic monuments are heroic in the grand tradition of Western art and reveal why Saint-Gaudens was considered the dean of American sculptors," said exhibition curator John Coffey, the Museum's deputy director of collections and programs. "But a sculpture like the cloaked figure of the Adams Memorial, deep in contemplation, and many of Saint-Gaudens' portraits offer private, even intimate studies of the human condition. Our exhibition strives to explore this aspect of the artist's work as well."
Modeled in low bas-relief and cast in bronze, the sculptural portraits included in the show depict industrialists and financiers; blue-blooded women and children; and artists, architects and writers, most notably Robert Louis Stevenson, shown propped up in bed and with pencil in hand.
Born in Dublin, Ireland, and raised in New York, Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) displayed a natural talent for art from an early age, and his studies took him not only to New York's Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design but also to Paris and Rome. Influenced by French and Italian art, Saint-Gaudens developed an ideal conception of beauty uniting European elegance with a distinctively American preference for factual naturalism. (left: Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), Diana, 1894-1895, cast 1972-1973, bronze, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site)
Returning to New York in 1875, the artist quickly established himself as a leader of what would become known as the American Renaissance. With architect Stanford White, Saint-Gaudens won his first major public commission, the monument to Civil War admiral David Farragut (1875-81), and White himself commissioned Saint-Gaudens' well-known sculpture of Diana, originally conceived in 1886 to crown the tower of Madison Square Garden.
The exhibition also features Saint-Gaudens' decorative objects, jewelry and coins, such as the famed "Double Eagle" Twenty Dollar Gold Piece commissioned by President Theodore Roosevelt. The sculptures will also be supplemented with paintings by Saint-Gaudens' contemporaries.
The exhibition is organized and circulated by the Trust for Museum Exhibitions. The majority of works in the show are borrowed from the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in New Hampshire.
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