Editor's note: The Allentown Art Museum provided source material to Resource Library Magazine for the following article or essay. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Allentown Art Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:
Augustus Saint-Gaudens: Master of American Sculpture
The Allentown Art Museum is presenting the first United States traveling exhibition of major projects by American Renaissance sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1843-1907). On view in the Museum's Kress and Rodale galleries November 23, 2003, through January 18, 2004, the exhibition features seventy-three full-size works; reductions in bronze, marble and plaster; portrait reliefs; cameos; and coins and medals. It focuses on seven major projects, including the Shaw Memorial, the standing Abraham Lincoln, and the Diana for the original Madison Square Garden. (right: Augustus Saint-Gaudens, USA born Ireland (1848-1907). Diana, Second Version, Half Size, cast 1972-73, bronze. Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish, N.H.)
A superb craftsman and artist and an influential teacher, Augustus Saint-Gaudens has been called an American Michelangelo. Brought to America as an infant, he was educated here and abroad. His training in Paris shaped his concept of ideal beauty as reflected in French and Italian Renaissance art. Saint-Gaudens moved to Rome during the Franco-Prussian war, returning to Paris in 1877 where his studio became a gathering place for American artists.
Saint-Gaudens had a remarkable range of expression, in his early years creating cameos, mural paintings, stained glass, and decorative panels for Gilded Age mansions. In his maturity he was a brilliant portraitist, producing more than one hundred sculptural portraits. The beauty, historical significance, and popularity of Saint-Gaudens's work made him the leading American sculptor of the late nineteenth century.
The sculptor's Civil War monuments were largely responsible for his national fame. His memorial to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth Volunteer Infantry (the first African American unit in the Union Army) is one of his finest creations. (left: Augustus Saint-Gaudens, USA born Ireland (1848-1907). Shaw Memorial, Soldier's Head, 1883-93, bronze. Saint-Guadens National Historic Site, Cornish, N.H.)
This exhibition focuses on seven major projects, including the Shaw Memorial, the standing Abraham Lincoln, and the Diana for the original Madison Square Garden.
Exhibition-related programming includes a holiday-themed Family Funday on Sunday, November 23 from 1-4 P.M. and a free Art Talk by contemporary sculptor Audrey Flack on Sunday, December 7 at 1 P.M. Program details follow.
Special exhibition admission for Augustus Saint-Gaudens: Master of American Sculpture is free for Museum members, $3 for non-members.
Major support for this exhibition is provided by The Harry C. Trexler Trust. Contributing support is provided by: Adams Outdoor Advertising; Lehigh Cement Company; Lutron Electronics Co., Inc.; Leon C. and June W. Holt Endowment; The Morning Call; and Newington-Cropsey Foundation.
Augustus Saint-Gaudens: Master of American Sculpture was organized by the Trust for Museum Exhibitions in cooperation with the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site.
All programs take place at the Museum unless otherwise indicated.
Following is text from the exhibition wall panels:
A sculptor's work endures so long it is next to a crime for him not to do everything in his power to produce a good result. With that philosophy the American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) created a great variety of works beginning in his early years with cameos, mural paintings, stained glass, and mixed media decorative panels found in some of the most magnificent Gilded Age mansions of his day. (right: John Flanagan, USA (1865-1952). Augustus Saint-Gaudens, 1905-24, bronze. The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
In his maturity Saint-Gaudens was a great portrait artist, creating more than one hundred sculptural portraits. He also accepted more than twenty public commissions for major monuments and he created medals and coins - the most renowned of which is the U.S. 1907 gold coinage created for the nation. He introduced affordable and accessible sculpture for a wider audience, with reductions of some of his most popular statues and portrait reliefs. This made it possible for museums and individuals alike to include his work in their collections. Saint-Gaudens's reputation and the popularity of his work established him as the leading American sculptor of the latter half of the nineteenth century.
As the wealth of America grew after the Civil War, great houses and art collections were created. Travel by train and ship and innovations in communication brought America closer to Europe and the Orient and exposed Americans to new cultures and artistic styles. Saint-Gaudens's reputation was made at this time.
The artist lived in the centers of European art in Paris and Rome from 1867 to the early 1870s. Returning to America, his earliest commissions were for decorative works cameos, murals, decorative sculptured panels, stained glass and silver. Through these commissions the young artist became experienced in various artistic media, and honed his skill as an artist of strong expressive quality.
THE CIVIL WAR
Following the end of the Civil War in 1865, there was a great public call for monuments and memorials dedicated to the leaders and soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Saint-Gaudens responded to this need with some of his most powerful sculptures. Through the Standing Lincoln in Chicago, the monuments to Admiral David Farragut and William Tecumseh Sherman in New York City, and the great Shaw Memorial in Boston, Saint-Gaudens presented to the country works that changed the public perception of civic sculpture. Of the hundreds of Civil Warinspired monuments, his works stand out for their quiet dignity and inherent strength of character.
THE FEMALE FIGURE
Saint-Gaudens's depictions of the female figure reveal the true grace and beauty of his technique. Works such as Amor Caritas, Morgan Tomb Angels, Diana, and the Adams Memorial, included in this exhibition, were among the most popular sculptures of the 19th century. All different stylistically, these figures reflect Saint-Gaudens's maturing approach to his depiction of the human form. The earliest figures, Amor Caritas and the Morgan Tomb Angels, show the influence of Pre-Raphaelite imagery in the almost dreamlike quality of the face and the flowing, graceful contours of the figure. The Diana is more classical in inspiration. Finally, the Adams Memorial, with its mystery and power, reflects the strength of emotion and the all-encompassing spirit that Henry Adams and the sculptor sought to achieve. Whether earthly or spiritual, Saint-Gaudens's sculptures of the female form are immediately appealing.
PORTRAITS IN RELIEF
Saint-Gaudens is best known for his relief portraiture. Introduced to the style during his early years in Paris and Rome, he made his first relief portraits in New York City following his return to the United States in 1875. The painter John LaFarge suggested that the sculptor try his hand at "painting" a bas-relief portrait, resulting in the first of a series of such portrayals over the sculptor's lifetime. The earliest reliefs in this exhibition are the portraits of William Picknell, Dr. Walter Cary and Charles McKim, the first of more than twenty bas-relief portraits of artists and friends he created while in Paris from 1877 to 1880. He continued to work in this medium throughout his career, producing over one hundred in his lifetime. The style of these portraits changes with time, taking on a more fluid, painterly style, and featuring experimentation with both very high and very low relief, and novelties such as the portrait of Bessie Smith White seen in the exhibition, her arm placed outside the portrait's frame. Critics consider Saint-Gaudens a master of the relief portrait in the style of the great artists of the Renaissance.
MEDALS AND U.S. GOLD COINAGE
Saint-Gaudens designed a number of commemorative medals, including the World's Columbian Exposition Commemorative Presentation Medal, 1893, the George Washington Inaugural Centennial Medal, 1889, and the Theodore Roosevelt Special Inaugural Medal, 1905. This last medal so pleased President Theodore Roosevelt that he asked the artist to redesign the U.S. gold coinage. Saint-Gaudens was the first professional sculptor in the United States to produce designs for the nation's coinage. Between 1905-1907 the artist, working with his assistant Henry Hering, produced designs for the twenty-dollar and ten-dollar gold coins, and began work on the one-cent piece. Completed after the artist's death, the twenty- and ten-dollar gold coins are considered by collectors to be the most beautiful ever designed.
RLM Editor's note: Please also see these related articles:
rev. 12/29/03, 12/31/03
Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Allentown Art Museum. in Resource Library Magazine.
Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.
This page was originally published in 2003 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.
Copyright 2012 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.