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Augustus Saint Gaudens
(1848-1907)
 Collection:  American Collection
 Specialty:  Sculpture
   Augustus Saint-Gaudens was the leading American sculptor of his time, some
   term him the "American Michelangelo" while others compared him to the
   French giant Auguste Rodin. His work encompassed a broad variety of
   sculptural forms over his life, from his design of the double eagle gold
   coin which some scholars have termed "the most beautiful coin ever minted"
   (the government later melted most of them down; one of the rare double
   eagles left in existence recently sold at auction for $6.6 million) to the
   massive monumental sculptural plaques for a 60-foot high pink granite
   pyramid in Wyoming. He sculpted portraits of major living figures
   including William Dean Howells and Robert Louis Stevenson as well as
   monuments to the lost, including Abraham Lincoln and perhaps his most
   famous piece, the Shaw Memorial, a tribute to Col. Robert Gould Shaw and
   the 54^th Massachusetts, the first black regiments to fight in the Civil
   War.

   Born in Dublin to a French cobbler and his Irish wife, Saint-Gaudens
   arrived in America when only 6 months old and tended to think of himself
   as a native New Yorker. He described his younger self as "red-headed,
   whopper-jawed, and hopeful" when, as a young boy, he fought with
   neighborhood gangs in the course of delivering his father's "French
   Ladies' Boots and Shoes" to the prominent ladies of New York. At 18, he
   stood in the line to view Lincoln's body, then returned to the back of the
   line for a chance to view the fallen president's face again, an event
   which would undoubtedly have an impact on his future sculptures of
   Lincoln. Earlier, at age 13, he had been apprenticed to a cameo-maker and
   also began attending night classes in art at Cooper Union, eventually
   moving on to study at the National Academy of Design. The second
   cameo-maker for whom he worked taught him to sculpt in clay, whetting the
   boy's appetite for art and instilling him the desire to study in Paris.
   His father provided the fare by refunding the money young Augustus had
   been paying his parents for room and board. In Paris in 1867, he worked
   for another cameo-maker while studying at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. When
   the Franco-Prussian War broke out, he moved to Rome and began work on his
   first major project, a sculpture of Hiawatha. Unfortunately, he showed a
   tendency which would follow him all his life - underestimating the actual
   cost of a piece compared to the sales price. Fortunately, two visiting
   Americans, one the governor of New York, admired the piece enough to
   underwrite it, as well as paying his way home after Saint-Gaudens suffered
   repeated bouts of an illness they called Roman fever.

   Back in the States, he managed to secure his first two sculptural
   commissions, one in Chicago and one in New York. He carved his last cameo
   to adorn the finger of the young woman he intended to marry, Augusta
   Homer, the partially deaf first cousin of artist Winslow Homer. Before
   their wedding, however, he returned to Rome for another two years, largely
   to secure materials for his two commissions and raise enough money to
   support a family. Instead he suffered through a series of mishaps and,
   having all his work attached by creditors in Rome, returned to America.
   Fortunately, a friend was able to rescue his pieces and save him from
   arriving penniless.

   Soon, through various friendships, most notably one with fellow sculptor
   John La Farge, he received several significant commissions, creating
   enough financial security to allow him to finally wed his patient fiancee.
   He took his new bride back to Paris, setting up a studio there to work on
   his American commissions. The Saint-Gaudens apartment soon became a sort
   of salon for Americans abroad, its parlor filled with long-terms friends
   including architects Stanford White and Charles McKim and author Samuel
   Clemens.

   After three years, the Saint-Gaudens family returned to America in 1880
   where their son Homer was born. Through his friendship with La Farge,
   Augustus was hired for a series of architectural decorations, including
   some caryatids and family bas-reliefs for the Vanderbilt mansion on Fifth
   Avenue. His reputation was made when the statue of Admiral Farragut on
   which he had worked in Paris was at last unveiled in Madison Square Park.
   One of his first commissions thereafter was for the Shaw Memorial, a task
   he expected to take two years which instead consumed fourteen. He did
   complete other commissions in the meantime, including a statue of Lincoln,
   a bas-relief of his friend Robert Louis Stevenson, and a bust of Gen.
   William Tecumseh Sherman with whom he became friendly. However, his next
   major work was a commission by renowned scholar and writer Henry Adams, a
   descendant of John and John Quincy Adams, to model a bronze statue in
   memory of his wife, Marion Hooper Adams, who had committed suicide. The
   resulting mysterious and melancholy figure has been called his
   masterpiece. In any case, the public visited it in large numbers (despite
   its cemetery location), further securing his reputation as the dean of
   American sculptors.

   Saint-Gaudens used his new-found fame to promote a fresh understanding of
   sculpture in America, organizing one of the first American exhibitions of
   the great French naturalist sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye in 1889. He was
   also willing to take the time to teach younger sculptors, inviting even
   ambitious young women into his studio, including a young woman named
   Annetta who eventually married his brother Louis while continuing to
   pursue a successful career sculpting in ceramics. In addition to helping
   establish a number of art societies and serving on the Senate Park
   Planning Commission for Washington, Augustus also helped found the
   American Academy in Rome.

   Though a bit of a hypochondriac who frequently went away on various
   "health cures", Augusta Saint-Gaudens was a shrewd money-manager who
   tenaciously guarded her husband's interests. She not only kept the family
   solvent, but through clever investments, actually built their wealth,
   enabling her husband's many pursuits. Despite the occasional turbulence of
   their marriage, she and Augustus seemed devoted. Then in the 1880s,
   Saint-Gaudens began working with a beautiful young model named Davida
   Clark. She posed for a number of works, including two pieces that became
   among his most famous: the Diana intended as a weathervane atop Madison
   Square Garden, the original of which is currently on display at the
   Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Amor Caritas, a bas-relief angel
   originally intended for the Morgan Tomb, the first casting of which was
   purchased by the French government and is currently in the Louvre. The
   Norton owns smaller-sized editions of both these works. Saint-Gaudens grew
   enamored of Clark and the two of them had a son together whom they named
   Louis after his brother. Louis and Annetta later had a hand in raising the
   boy and remained close to him throughout their lives. However, he was kept
   secret from Augusta, taking his mother's last name. When at last Augusta
   learned of the affair years later, she briefly left her husband. He wrote
   her a moving letter expressing his adoration and continued commitment to
   her, and she relented, remaining by his side until his death. His final
   sculpture, a bas-relief he was unable to complete, was a portrait of his
   wife accompanied by the family dog, whose shaggy visage seems to evoke a
   deliberate likeness to the sculptor himself.

   During a final stay in Paris in 1900, Saint-Gaudens began having severe
   health problems. Told he need surgery for an intestinal tumor, he returned
   to America and had it removed at Massachusetts General Hospital. However,
   his health never recovered and he lived in almost constant pain, which he
   bore with patience, fortitude, and even humor for the rest of his life. He
   began his memoirs which he entitled Reminiscences of an Idiot, but
   died before completing them or his final sculptures, passing away in 1907
   at a premature 59 years of age.

   Despite his frequent funerary commissions, turbulent health, and marital
   misadventures, Saint-Gaudens insisted on remaining optimistic and positive
   in his outlook, contributing both encouragement and effort to the
   promotion of American art and artists. He once explained his personal
   philosophy:

   It seems as if we are all in one open boat on the ocean, abandoned and
   drifting, no one knows where, and while doing all we can to get somewhere,
   it is better to be cheerful than melancholy; the latter does not help the
   situation, and the former cheers up one's comrades . . . Love and courage
   are the great things . . . The thing to do is to try and do good, and any
   serious and earnest effort seems to me to be, to our limited vision, a
   drop in the ocean of evolution to something better.

   Everl Adair, Director of Research and Rare Collections

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