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 Augustus Saint-Gaudens  (1848 - 1907)

/ SAYNT-GAW-denz/
About: Augustus Saint-Gaudens
 

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Lived/Active: New York/New Hampshire/Massachusetts / France      Known for: portrait and figure sculpture, monuments

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BIOGRAPHY for Augustus Saint-Gaudens
Facts/Data
Birth
1848 (Dublin, Ireland)
 
Death
1907 (Cornish, New Hampshire)

Lived/Active
New York/New Hampshire/Massachusetts / France

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portrait and figure sculpture, monuments

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Civil War Art
Cornish Colony
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
Sculptors
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Dublin, Ireland, Augustus Saint-Gaudens became one of the more famous American sculptors of the late 19th century and was associated with a period called The Gilded Age. He brought the Beaux Arts style to America, as he had studied in Italy and France, where he had had rigorous training which included model classical subjects from plaster casts. A work for which he is particularly known is the monumental statue "Diana," a gilded copper weathervane for the top of the Madison Square Garden Tower in New York City. Thirteen feet high, it was installed in 1894.

He came to New York City as an infant and his father became a shoemaker. At age thirteen, Augustus apprenticed to a cameo cutter and then studied art at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design where he drew from antique casts and worked in clay. In 1867, he enrolled for three years in the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and supported himself by making cameos and copies of famous sculpture.

At the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War, he went to Italy for five years and found work of Donatello, Florentine master, especially inspiring. In Rome, he established himself as a professional sculptor, receiving many commissions for portraits busts.

In 1875, he returned to New York and worked for Tiffany Studios and became part of a team of artists who did decoration in Boston for Trinity Church, designed by H.H. Richardson. Augustus' first major commission was the Farragut Monument for which Stanford White designed the base. Admiral David Farragut was the first of many Civil War figures that he depicted, and Augustus' reputation for portrait and public monumental sculpture made him one of the prominent figures of his day. Another one of his famous Civil War creations was the New York City "Sherman Monument", depicting William Tecumseh Sherman on his march through Georgia. According to Donald Martin Reynolds in his book, "Masters of American Sculpture", the work "is America's most successful equestrian monument from the standpoint of conception, design, and execution"...(133).

In New York Society, he was closely associated with architect Stanford White and Richard Watson Gilder, editor of "Scribner's" and "Literary Digest." White designed many of the pedastals and bases for Saint-Gaudens' sculpture.

In 1885, he moved to Cornish, New Hampshire, now the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, and in subsequent years was joined there by Thomas Wilmer Dewing, George de Forest Brush, and Maxfield Parrish as well as other painters. Together they established an important artist and literary colony in the area.

His career thrived throughout the 1890s, and like so many of his peers, he participated in the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, serving as the Sculpture Consultant to the Director. In 1901, he served as a consultant on the city plan of Washington D.C. and in 1905, at the request of President Teddy Roosevelt, designed official United States coins.

He died in 1907 in Cornish, New Hampshire. Many of his works were left unfinished and were completed by his studio assistants.


Source:
Matthew Baigell, "Dictionary of American Artists"
Donald Martin Reynolds, "Masters of American Sculpture"

Biography from Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site:
Recognized as one of America’s foremost artists, Augustus Saint-Gaudens was the preeminent sculptor of the “American Renaissance.”  He rose to fame in 1881, as a young man, with the unveiling of his statue of Admiral Farragut in New York City. By the turn of the century, his public monuments graced several major cities, and his masterful portrait reliefs were sought after by wealthy patrons of the “Gilded Age.”

Though considered American, Saint-Gaudens was born in Dublin, Ireland, on March 1, 1848.  His father, Bernard Saint-Gaudens, a French shoemaker, had settled in Dublin and married an Irish woman, Mary McGuiness. Augustus was their third child, two sons having died in infancy.  Six months after his birth, the family boarded the ship, Desdamona, and followed thousands of Irish to a new life in America. Bernard settled the family in New York City, where he established a successful shoe business. Later, two other sons were born, Louis and Andrew. Louis (1854-1913), like Augustus, would also become an accomplished sculptor, though his career was overshadowed by his brother.

As a boy, Augustus had always expressed an interest in art, so upon completion of primary school at thirteen, he was apprenticed to a cameo cutter. During the next six years, while working days at his cameo lathe, he also took evening art classes at the Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design, the latter being next door to his home. His natural talent for sculpture, and his cameo training, stood him well in his later success as a master of relief portraiture.

At nineteen, his apprenticeship completed, Saint-Gaudens was determined to become a sculptor. Bernard had saved his son’s wages, and now presented him with $100 and passage to France so the boy could see the 1867 exposition and find training in sculpture. In Paris, Augustus’ obvious talent gained him entry to the renown École des Beaux-Arts.

During the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Saint-Gaudens left Paris for Rome, where for the next five years, he studied classical art and architecture, and received his first commissions. Here, he also met an American art student, Augusta Homer, of Roxbury, Massachusetts, whom he later married.

In 1876, Augustus received his first major commission; a monument to Civil War Admiral David Glasgow Farragut.  Unveiled in New York’s Madison Square Park in 1881, the monument was a tremendous success; its combination of realism and allegory, a departure from previous American sculpture. Saint-Gaudens' fame grew, and other commissions were quickly forthcoming.

Saint-Gaudens' increased prominence and financial security soon allowed him to pursue his interest in teaching, something he did steadily from 1888 to 1897. He tutored young artists privately, taught at the Art Students League, and took on many assistants. He was an artistic advisor to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, an avid supporter of the American Academy in Rome, and part of the MacMillan Commission, which made recommendations for the architectural and artistic preservation and improvement of the Nations' Capital.

During his career, Saint-Gaudens produced enduring and distinctive public sculpture, such as the Adams Memorial, the Sherman Monument, and Lincoln, the Man.  Perhaps his greatest achievement was the Shaw Memorial, unveiled in Boston on Memorial Day, 1897.  Done in very high relief, the monument commemorates Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, the first African American regiment raised in the north during the Civil War and subject of the film Glory.  Described as Saint-Gaudens’ “symphony in bronze,” the relief took fourteen years to complete and is considered one of America’s most significant public monuments.

By 1897, Saint-Gaudens found himself at the peak of his fame in American art circles, yet in Europe his work was not well known, nor as critically acclaimed. At this point in his career, he felt a need to measure his art against his European contemporaries. He had also tired of New York, and felt an increasing urge to return to France, where he had spent such pleasurable and productive years.

That Fall, Saint-Gaudens left for Paris. He brought with him plaster casts of several major works including the Sherman Monument and the Shaw Memorial. Though the latter now stood in bronze on Boston Common, Saint-Gaudens was dissatisfied with the result and wanted to continue to refine it. This reaction illustrates Saint-Gaudens constant drive for perfection , something that caused long delays in completing commissions.

Arriving in Paris, Saint-Gaudens found a studio “in a charming little garden-like passage in the Rue de Bagneux, of which there are so many in out-of-the-way corners of Paris, the mere existence of which makes life worth living.”

The artistic success Saint-Gaudens enjoyed, however, was counterbalanced by a growing mental depression; “I have been so depressed and blue that I have felt, as I have only felt once before, a complete absence of ambition, a carelessness about all that I have cared so much about before, and desire to be ended with life. There is too much misery and unhappiness in the world, and all this struggle for beauty seems so vain and hopeless.” He was saddened too, by the recent death of his friend, Paul Bion, and even Paris, a city he loved, now seemed changed.

Thus in October, Saint-Gaudens made his first and only trip to Aspet, his father’s birthplace. His father had died nine years before, and now at age 50, we see a man more reflective on the past with a growing interest in his roots.

The small village of Aspet lies in the Pyrennees, close to the town of Saint-Gaudens, whence the family name derived. When Saint-Gaudens arrived he was unexpectedly overcome; “It is impossible for me to describe my emotions upon arriving at the village I had heard my father speak of so frequently and at seeing my name over a door at the head of a little narrow street, where a cousin of mine conducted a shoe-trade and also dealt in wines. It is that singular sense of being at home where one has never been before.”

Augustus enjoyed himself immensely, and the experience brought back pleasant memories of his father’s stories and “Gallic wit.” He asked numerous questions about his family history, and like tourists today returning to an ancestral home, took photographs of special places; the family house, an “X” on the print indicating the window of his father’s room, the hillside where his father played as a child - each photograph carefully annotated in the margins.

Saint-Gaudens never returned to Aspet, but he was not forgotten in his father’s homeland. In 1932, in a Franco-American partnership, a monument to him was erected in the town of Saint-Gaudens. It included figures representing France and the United States, holding a crown of laurels over the sculptor’s head. Although the bronze figures were lost during WW II, the inscribed base remains there today. In 1999, with the advent of a major exhibition of his work in France, the town of Aspet renamed the main street and library after Saint-Gaudens.

At the 1899 Paris Salon, Saint-Gaudens exhibited an heroic-size maquette of the unfinished Sherman Monument. Especially pleased with the piece, he wrote to his son “I have got a swelled head for the first time in my life, for the Sherman really looks bully and is smashingly fine. It’s in the place of honor at the Champ-de-Mars, and from a screeching maniac I have become a harmless, drooling, gibbering idiot, sitting all day long looking at the statue.  Occasionally I fall on my knees and adore it.” Saint-Gaudens considered the Sherman his crowning achievement when it was unveiled four years later in New York City.

He now felt renewed: “This Paris experience, as far as my art goes, has been a great thing for me. I never felt sure of myself before, I groped ahead. All blindness seems to have been washed away. I see my place clearly now; I know, or think I know, just where I stand. A great self-confidence has come over me, and a tremendous desire and will to achieve high things, with a confidence that I shall, has taken possession of me”

Saint-Gaudens’ European triumph came in 1900 at the grand Exposition Universelle, one of the largest expositions of its time.  He received a gold medal for his works, and was also awarded the French Legion of Honor.  Among works he exhibited was the Shaw Memorial cast which he had continued to rework.  After 18 years, the Shaw Memorial was in its fourth, and final, form, and it was only then that Saint-Gaudens finally considered it finished.  It was here that Auguste Rodin upon seeing the Shaw Memorial, doffed his hat to it as a great masterpiece.

At the height of his artistic triumphs, Saint-Gaudens was now dealt a crushing blow; he was diagnosed with colon cancer.  He immediately returned to America, underwent two operations, and decided to make his summer home in Cornish, New Hampshire, his year round residence.  For the next seven years, despite diminishing energy, he continued to work, producing a steady stream of reliefs and public sculpture.

Saint-Gaudens first came to Cornish in 1885, renting an old inn for the summer from friend and lawyer, Charles Beaman.  He adapted the house to his needs, and converted a hay barn into a studio. Augustus and his family grew to love the place, and purchased it in 1891.

He named the estate “Aspet” after his father's birthplace, and over the years transformed the grounds with gardens, hedges and recreation areas, including a swimming pool, bowling green, nine-hole golf course, and a thirty foot tall toboggan slide.  The 1804 house was completely remodeled, adding a graceful, curving interior stairway with a mezzanine study, new bedrooms, a sun room, dormers, and a wide, columned porch.

A large studio was also constructed where his many assistants worked. Saint-Gaudens’ role became like that of an executive producer; he developed the concept and initial sculptural models, then directed his assistants in completion of the work. In 1904, this studio burned, destroying many of the sculptor's personal belongings, and works in progress. A redesigned studio was quickly built, but in 1944, it too, burned.

Saint-Gaudens’ would visit this large studio early in the morning before his assistants had arrived and inspect their progress. He left notes with instructions and comments, and then went to his ‘Little Studio” to work in private. His assistants were talented sculptors, and he gave them significant latitude in working up his designs.

After 1904, Saint-Gaudens illness caused him increasing pain and debilitation, and his own work on the sculptures grew ever more limited. It was chiefly his assistants James Earle Fraser, Henry Hering, Elsie Ward, and others, who completed commissions like the Parnell Monument. Although they worked under Saint-Gaudens’ direction, his diminished involvement was evident, and these later works often lack some of the drama found in earlier creations.

Saint-Gaudens was not isolated in Cornish. Many other artists followed him to the area, forming a loosely knit community known as the “Cornish Colony.” Included were painters Maxfield Parrish, Thomas Dewing, George Deforest Brush and Kenyon Cox, dramatist Percy MacKaye, American novelist Winston Churchill, architect, Charles Platt, and sculptors Herbert Adams, Frances Grimes, and Annetta and Louis St. Gaudens. This made for a dynamic social environment, at the center of which stood Augustus Saint?Gaudens.

In June 1905, colony members produced a play, "A Masque of Ours: The Gods and the Golden Bowl," at the sculptor’s estate, to celebrate Saint?Gaudens' twentieth year in Cornish. The Classical theme was light in nature and included many local allusions. There was a cast of 90, with original music performed by members of the Boston Symphony. The stage set, in the form of a Greek temple, was later recreated in marble, and is now the final resting place for the ashes of Saint?Gaudens and his family.

Saint-Gaudens died in Cornish on August 3, 1907, succumbing to the cancer he had fought for so long. The studio operation continued after his death, as several large commissions remained in process, including the Lincoln, Head of State, for Chicago, the Caryatids for the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo and the Philips Brooks Monument, for Boston. Louis St. Gaudens, his wife, Annetta Johnson St. Gaudens, and other assistants, worked to finish the sculptures.  Mrs. Saint-Gaudens organized the business affairs of the atelier, and later continued to authorize limited edition reductions of such pieces as the Puritan, Diana and Standing Lincoln.

Mrs. Saint-Gaudens survived her husband for nineteen years. In 1919, to secure Saint-Gaudens’ place in American art, she and their son, Homer, established the Saint-Gaudens Memorial, an organization dedicated to preserving the estate as an historic site and museum. In 1965, the Memorial donated the property to the National Park Service, which today, remains one of only two national park units dedicated to a visual artist. Though the artist colony gradually dissipated, the site remains, however, as a reminder of that community and the work of one of America's greatest sculptors.

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