“Lincoln stood tall in the carriage, his dark uncovered head bent in contemplative acknowledgment of the waiting people.”
—Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907)
Augustus Saint-Gaudens was a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln. The young Saint-Gaudens wrote down his first impression of the man as he made his way to Washington to be sworn in for the first time as the 16th president of the United States. Mr. Saint-Gaudens, a teenager apprenticed to a New York City cameo cutter, saw this and other Civil War-era events, from troops marching off to battle, to the New York Draft Riots, to parades for the victorious generals.
Mr. Saint-Gaudens would create two monuments to the president. This reduced bronze titled “Standing Lincoln” was cast in 1911. It is part of the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and on display in the museum’s second-floor American Wing. The full-scale model was dedicated in Chicago’s Lincoln Park in 1887 after a three-year-long sculpting process.
Mr. Saint-Gaudens was inspired by the Great Emancipator’s speeches and writings. The several sources of inspiration resulted in a pensive Lincoln, who stands before the eagle-emblazoned Chair of State, with his left foot forward and his head slightly bowed in thought as he is about to deliver a public address.
Sculpted in Cornish, New Hampshire, where he would eventually establish his studio workshop and summer retreat, Mr. Saint-Gaudens based the figure’s face on the life mask of Lincoln, also in The Met’s collection, made by Leonard Volk in 1860; but for the figure itself he used a “Lincoln-shaped men,” just as Charles C. Beaman, the man who had persuaded the sculptor to work on the project in Cornish, had promised Mr. Saint-Gaudens would find in the area. That man was Langdon Morse, from Windsor, Vermont across the Connecticut River, which forms the boundary between the two states, who was the same height and rail-thin body-type as Lincoln.
Mr. Saint-Gaudens was a perfectionist. He began all his sculptures by creating small, clay sketches; each in a different pose as he developed the composition, When he had settled on the final design, a model was hired. Dressed in a suit that was accurately tailored to replicate Lincoln’s, the sculptor asked that the man walk around while wearing it so the jacket and trousers would have a lived-in look, including wrinkles. Then, from various angles photos were taken of the model. When he finally began the sculpting a nude clay figure was first made, with clothing added later. This approach ensured that the figure’s correct proportions were found.
Cast in bronze by New York’s Henry-Bonnard Bronze Company, the president’s son, Robert, thought that this was the best representation of his father. Following her husband’s death Mr. Saint-Gaudens’ wife, Augusta authorized an edition of bronze reductions of the full-sized work. The Met is among the public institutions across the country where the reduced sized versions can be found. Around the world in cities and towns, from London, England and Mexico City to Cambridge, Massachusetts and Hollywood Hills, California full-size casts of the statue were later installed. Modern castings of only the monument’s head are often gifted to such dignitaries as the United States president. The monument had an unexpected legacy. The profile of Lincoln seen on the stamp of 1909, the centenary of Lincoln’s birth, was drawn from this sculpture’s head. The other bronze by Saint-Gaudens is Seated Lincoln, sculpted at the end of his life, 1897–1906, and is in Chicago’s Grant Park.
During a career covering 25 years, Mr. Saint-Gaudens completed over 150 artworks, including such well-known public monuments as the General William T. Sherman Monument in New York’s Central Park. Mr. Saint-Gaudens’ public monuments were at the forefront of the integration of architecture, landscaping, and monumental sculpture. He collaborated with leading architects such as Stanford White, creating specific settings for his artworks. Mr. Saint-Gaudens was also a master of the most difficult form of sculpture, relief. President Theodore Roosevelt asked that the sculptor design the 1907 United States gold coin; it became one of his greatest, best-known legacies. He became the first sculptor to design an American coin, and his design for twenty-dollar gold piece is regarded as America’s most beautiful coin.
“Then came the news of Lincoln’s assassination. I recall father and mother weeping, as he read of it to us . . . I saw Lincoln lying in state in the City Hall, and I went back to the end of the line to look at him again. This completed my vision of the big man, though the funeral . . . deepened the profound solemnity of my impression.”
Read our other articles celebrating Abraham Lincoln.
Another Lincoln Standing in New York and
Lincoln, Standing in New York
During our Central Park Walking Tour and our Five Squares and a Circle Tour you will discover other public works by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Take the Tour; Know More!