Welcome! Today’s post focuses on two sculptures of Abraham Lincoln, and the creator of these statues, Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
A reader and friend from the Irish American Heritage Center asked me to research Mr. Saint-Gaudens, a Dublin born artist. Augustus Saint-Gaudens is of interest to Chicagoans because four of his sculptures, one of which is the Standing Lincoln, can be seen in Lincoln Park and Grant Park. What I discovered as I researched him was a very interesting character with an unusual memoir titled Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens: Edited and Amplified by Homer Saint-Gaudens. This memoir published in 1913 is the first I’ve ever come across to have been “amplified.” One of Saint-Gaudens’s sons, who has done the “amplifying” explains, “I have done my best to supply what is missing concerning his [Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s] attitude toward art and artists past and present, as well as to illuminate portions of his life by what his friends have told me, by various personal recollections and letters,” (vol.i.preface.xiv). The text uses different font sizes to show when the father, Augustus the artist, is speaking and when his son, Homer, is explaining his father’s words.
Mr. Saint-Gaudens has a very matter-of-fact way of writing. When speaking of his own birth in Ireland he says, “I was born March 1, 1848 in Dublin, Ireland, near 35 Charlemount Street. If that is not the house, no doubt the nearest Catholic church would give you the number,” (vol.i.9). His mother, Mary McGuiness, supplied the Irish heritage, and his father, Bernard Paul Ernest Saint-Gaudens was from France. Augustus writes of his father that, “He was born in the little village of Aspet, about fifty miles from Toulouse, at the foot of the Pyrenees, five miles south of the town of Saint-Gaudens…” (vol.i.9). Augustus confesses to knowing little about his father’s past and does not supply an explanation between the French town’s name and his own.
The family did not live in Dublin long and left Ireland when Augustus was only six months old. Saint-Gaudens knows few details about the journey but says, “I do know, however, they landed at Boston town, probably in September, 1848,” (vol.i.9). Mary and Bernard then packed up again and moved to New York where little Augustus would grow up and develop into “One of America’s greatest artists.” 1 As a young man Saint-Gaudens spent several years studying art and architecture in Europe and then returned to New York. He slowly made a name for himself by designing Civil War memorials and monuments. Saint-Gaudens had received a commission to do a memorial for Robert Gould Shaw and his 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (upon whom the film, Glory, was based) when he received a unique offer for another Civil War related commission in Chicago. In his memoir Saint-Gaudens explains, “Then in the ensuing year, to add fat to the fire, a committee in Chicago wrote me asking if I would compete for a monument to Lincoln for that city, to be erected from a fund provided under the will of Mr. Eli Bates. I refused. Some time later they inquired if I would not undertake the commission directly, as well as a fountain. Of course I accepted, naming a day for finishing it, which still further decreased the chance of completing the ‘Shaw’ in the time I hoped,” (vol.i.350). The famous Lincoln statue was unveiled on October 22, 1887. It can be found just behind the Chicago History Museum at Clark and North Avenue.
The fountain that Saint-Gaudens mentions can be found less than a mile north of the Standing Lincoln. The fountain, Storks at Play, is the centerpiece of the Formal Gardens at the north-western entrance of Lincoln Park Zoo. It sits just a few meters south of the Lincoln Park Conservatory and a few meters north of the large Schiller statue. The fountain, just as Standing Lincoln had been, was installed there in 1887. Saint-Gaudens gives a large deal of credit for the fountain to another artist who apprenticed under him. Augustus explains, “Of all my pupils, however, none has approached in importance a lad sent me by some stone-cutter as a studio boy whom he thought would answer my purpose…
…This was Frederick William MacMonnies…I found a pronounced artistic atmosphere in some little terra-cotta sketches of animals which he brought to me…He remained with me for five years when subsequently I asked him to come back and help me for a year or less on the fountain I was commissioned to do at the same time as ‘Lincoln.’
He modeled the boys that are in the fountain, and, though he created them under my direction, whatever charm there may be in them is entirely due to his remarkable artistic ability, and whatever there is without charm can be laid at my door,” (vol.ii.6). To the right is a detail of one of the boys that MacMonnies designed for the fountain.
The third sculpture that Saint-Gaudens created for Chicago is a bronze figure to remember another Civil War icon, Major General John A. Logan. The Logan Museum in Murphysboro, Illinois, as well as other sources, credit Logan as “the Founder of Memorial Day as a national holiday.” 2 Logan also had been a U.S. Senator for Illinois. Saint-Gaudens’s statue of him stands just east of Michigan Avenue and 9th street in the southern end of Grant Park. At the statue’s unveiling in 1897 Saint-Gaudens apparently was feeling a bit churlish during the parade and reception. He says of the event, “After this unveiling, a reception was given to Mrs. Logan and to me in one of the public buildings of Chicago. This in another way I felt to be almost as touching and pathetic as the parade, though it possessed a sparkle of humor…” (vol.ii.85). Mr. Saint-Gaudens seems to be a gentleman that rarely spoke polite, white lies.
Many individuals of a certain generation may also remember this statue from the 1968 Democratic National Convention when protestors swarmed the hill that the bronze figure sits upon and climbed atop the statue. You can see footage of that event from the film Chicago 10 in this Youtube link.
The last sculpture Saint-Gaudens created for Chicago was one that he never got to see unveiled. This statue, Seated Lincoln, however relieved for Saint-Gaudens a creative itch.
In Saint-Gaudens’s “amplified” memoir his son, Homer, explains,”Regarding the conception as a whole, he was from the beginning of two minds as to whether or not to make Lincoln seated, and this latter desire he satisfied in one of his final commissions, when he completed his second Lincoln that is to be erected in another part of Chicago; a Lincoln, the Head of the State, in contrast with the Lincoln, the Man, which now stands on the northern edge of the
city,” (vol.i.356). This Seated Lincoln or as Homer calls it, Lincoln, the Head of State gave Saint-Gaudens the chance to have his standing Lincoln and seat him too.
This bronze sculpture was one of his final pieces. He received the commission in a similar manner to the first: he was told to enter a competition, he refused, and then was offered the commission outright, but according to his son, “It is interesting to record that he nearly lost this opportunity, however, through that very absorption in his work which had placed him where he stood,” (vol.ii.307). Saint-Gaudens was so focused on his work that he completely missed the appointment with the Chicago Century Club who planned to grant him this commission. Eventually the Century Club decided that a man so dedicated to his craft must be the right person for the job. Seated Lincoln was commissioned in 1889, but was cast in 1908, a year after Augustus Saint-Gaudens had passed. It was shown in multiple cities in the United States for almost two decades and then was finally installed in Grant Park in 1926. Lincoln sits in the aptly named President’s Court only a few blocks north of Saint-Gaudens’s Logan statue and just east of Buckingham Fountain.
If you have the opportunity in Chicago, head out to Grant Park and Lincoln Park to appreciate his work. If you’re ever in Dublin, Ireland, the large Charles Parnell memorial on O’Connell street is one of his too.
Thank you for reading!
Resources & Citations
Saint-Gaudens, Augustus. Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens: Edited and Amplified by Homer Saint-Gaudens,
Century Company, NY. 1913.
Tharp, Louise Hall. Saint-Gaudens and the Gilded Era. Little, Brown. 1969.
1. National Park Service, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site http://www.nps.gov/saga/index.htm
2. John A. Logan Museum http://www.loganmuseum.org/
3. Chicago 10 Youtube clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DqdM87_Lmv4