Monuments and Myths: The America of Sculptors Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Daniel Chester French will be the first exhibition to examine the intersecting significance of the two foremost American sculptors of the Gilded Age. French (1850–1931) and Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907) were friendly rivals who transformed sculpture in the United States, producing dozens of the nation’s most recognizable public artworks—from Saint-Gaudens’s Diana atop New York City’s Madison Square Garden to French’s Seated Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC. Drawing upon the collections of the artists’ historic homes, Chesterwood and the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park, the project will include approximately seventy sculptures, models, maquettes, and more. Introducing audiences to the sculptors’ careers, the exhibition will examine how their art shaped and reflected America’s complicated negotiation of national identity in the years between the Civil War and the Great Depression.
Augustus Saint-Gaudens was born in Dublin, Ireland, the son of an Irish mother and a French father. He immigrated to New York as an infant. Daniel Chester French was born in New Hampshire, the fourth child of a New England family with roots in America that reached back hundreds of years. After coming of age in Civil War America and training in Europe, Saint-Gaudens and French returned to the United States in a moment when sculpture had immense power to shape the visual and intellectual landscape of the nation. Amid massive industrial growth and developing new socio-political structures, the sculptors produced aesthetically graceful and socially potent artworks that informed the nation’s efforts to navigate its post–Civil War values.
Monuments and Myths will shed light on the lives and careers of French and Saint-Gaudens while offering an expansive narrative that reflects the multiplicity of the stories embedded in their art. The thematic installation will include an opening section devoted to the artists’ studios, introducing aspects of their techniques as well as the diverse group of models, assistants, carvers, and casters who were vital to their practices. Another section examines their monuments and architectural sculptures designed to communicate ideas of national grandeur in civic spaces. A third section studies their portraits and decorative arts alongside the cultural milieu of their patrons and clients. A fourth section showcases their funerary monuments, looking at their participation in America’s shifting attitudes towards public mourning. A fifth section highlights French’s and Saint-Gaudens’s monuments to Abraham Lincoln and Civil War memory. This section will include some of the best-known artworks in American visual culture, including French’s Seated Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial as well as examples derived from Saint-Gaudens’s Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment Memorial.
Accompanied by a new scholarly catalogue and a multi-vocal interpretive program, the exhibition will probe the intersections of the artists’ oeuvres and questions of race and representation, America’s position on a global stage, evolving norms of gender, labor, and class, and the weight of America’s past. It will facilitate opportunities for museum visitors to question some of the underlying assumptions about the United States’ most iconic monuments, and reveal ways that the sculptors’ artworks continue to influence understandings of America today.
Henry Duffy, PhD, has been the curator at Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park for twenty-three years; during that time he has shepherded traveling exhibits of Saint-Gaudens’s work around the United States as well as to multiple venues in Europe.
Andrew Eschelbacher, PhD, is the Director of Curatorial Affairs at the American Federation of Arts and a specialist of nineteenth- and twentieth-century European and American sculpture.
Donna Hassler has been the director of Chesterwood for over twelve years and also administers the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios Program.
Rick Kendall has been director of Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park for eleven years and is also responsible for National Park Service parks and programs in the state of Vermont.
Dana Pilson has been a curatorial researcher for Chesterwood for the last nine years and has supported a variety of research projects and exhibitions.
A fully illustrated, multi-authored catalogue will accompany the exhibition. The essays by leading scholars and thinkers in the field will examine thematic topics including French’s and Saint-Gaudens’s artistic practice, the intersections of race and monument, evolving conceptions of gender in the public sphere, and the artists place within transatlantic sculptural networks. The publication will feature new photography, archival photographs, excerpts from letters, and other primary material.
This exhibition is co-organized by the American Federation of Arts, the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park, and Chesterwood, a Site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
For booking information, contact Andrew Eschelbacher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212.988.7700 ext. 262.