Gilded Age Sculpture of Augustus Saint-Gaudens

USA TODAY, April 2003 | Go to article overview

Gilded Age Sculpture of Augustus Saint-Gaudens


Heroism and nobility, sophistication and superb craftsmanship, the height of elegance and the end of an era--these are the elements of the traveling exhibition "Augustus Saint-Gaudens: American Sculptor of the Gilded Age," which features approximately 75 of his works.

The exhibition includes finished pieces in cast bronze and numerous studies for monuments, including "David Farragut," "Diana," "Abraham Lincoln," "Gen. William T. Sherman," and three of the artist's most-celebrated works: "The Puritan," the "Shaw Memorial," and the "Adams Memorial." The latter was commissioned by writer-philosopher Henry Adams as a tomb monument for his wife. The inclusion of the preliminary studies grants viewers an understanding of the sculptor's creative process, marked by intense thought and considerable trial and error.

"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," says exhibition curator John Coffey, deputy director of collections and programs, North Carolina Museum of Art. "But a sculpture like the cloaked head of the figure from the `Adams Memorial,' deep in contemplation, and many of Saint-Gaudens' portraits offer private, even intimate studies of the human condition." Modeled in low bas-relief and cast in bronze, the sculptural portraits 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 to Paris and Rome. Influenced by French and Italian art, he developed an ideal conception of beauty uniting European elegance with a distinctively American preference for factual naturalism.

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