Thursday, July 2, 2009

Jill Krementz Photo Journal - Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Augustus Saint-Gaudens
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
June 30th-November 15, 2009

Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1847-1907) was the greatest American sculptor of his day. Even if you are not familiar with his name, you have most likely seen his work.

The collection, presently on display at the Met, contains over four dozen works by the accomplished artist and represents the entire range of his oeuvre: cameos, bas-reliefs, portrait busts and statuettes derived from his public monuments.

Adjacent to the exhibition is the recently re-opened American Wing (The Charles Engelhard Court) which includes Saint-Gauden’s first full-length life-size marble sculpture, Hiawatha, as well as the monumental mantelpiece designed for the mansion of Cornelius Vanderbilt II.

I loved this show. And part of the fun was recognizing so much of his work but up until now, knowing so little about the man.
Diana, 1892-93; this cast, 1928. Aware of Saint-Gaudens's desire to model a female nude, Stanford White gave him the commission for a weathervane for the tower of Madison Square Garden (demolished in 1925). The first, 18-foot-tall sculpture proved too large and was replaced in 1894 by a streamlined version, five feet shorter. It became one of New York's most popular landmarks, and the sculpture capitalized on its success by issuing numerous reductions. This cast is a half-size model of the second version, produced from a cement cast once owned by White.
Robert Louis Stevenson writing in bed, 1887-1888.
Four bust models used for Saint-Gaudens's famous Shaw Memorial in Boston, which took the artist thirteen years to complete.
The Chicago sculptor Leonard Wells Volk produced casts of Abraham Lincoln's face and hands in the spring 1860 and these were sold to Saint-Gaudens in 1866. The serene life mask was taken by Volk in April in Chicago when Lincoln was only fifty-one and beardless. The hands were molded the following month at Lincoln's house in Springfield, Illinois shortly after he was nominated for President at the Republican National Convention. His right hand appears swollen and noticeably larger than the left and is attributed to the many congratulatory handshakes. The graceful portrait of Davida Johnson Clark (1861-1910) was a gift from Saint-Gaudens to his longtime model and mistress and the mother of his second son, Louis. Here, the Swedish-born beauty appears with a soulful gaze and aquiline nose, gazing right. This private token of affection served as an early study for the head of Diana for the tower of Madison Square Garden, the most public of Saint-Gaudens's outdoor sculptures.
Curator of the show, Thayer Tolles, in front of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, 1887 (this replica, 1908), by Kenyon Cox. This portrayal of Saint-Gaudens in his 36th Street studio records his distinctive profile as well as some of his prized studio contents. With a wad of clay and a modeling tool, he reaches out to shape his portrait of William Merritt Chase.
General William Tecumseh Sherman, 1888. His bust of the Civil War hero was modeled during eighteen visits, each lasting about two hours, while Sherman reminisced about the war. Victory, 1892-1903, gilt bronze. Excerpted from the full size of Victory on Saint Gaudens's equestrian monument to General William Tecumseh Sherman (see photograph below), this winged allegorical figure wears a crown of laurel and triumphantly carries a palm frond. Saint-Gaudens intended to reduce Victory to a statuette, but his plans remained unrealized until his widow, Augusta, arranged for the master molder Gaetan Ardisson to cast a plaster reduction. Victory was copyrighted in 1912 and thereafter cast in bronze.
The Puritan, 1883–86; this cast, 1899 or after. In 1881, Saint-Gaudens was commissioned by Chester W. Chapin, a railroad tycoon and congressman, to sculpt a large-scale bronze likeness of an ancestor, Deacon Samuel Chapin (1595–1675), one of the three founding fathers of Springfield, Massachusetts. The sculptor wrote in his Reminiscences that: "The statue … was to represent Deacon Samuel Chapin, but I developed it into an embodiment … of the 'Puritan.'" On Thanksgiving Day 1887, The Puritan was unveiled on Stearns Square in Springfield, at one end of a site designed by Stanford White. Eva Rohr, 1872; This marble bust was the artist's first commissioned portrait. After moving to Rome in 1870, Saint-Gaudens shared a studio with the Portuguese sculptor Antonio Soares dos Reis (1847–1889) in the gardens of the Palazzo Barberini. In 1872, Hannah Rohr Tuffs visited him there and commissioned her portrait in cameo. Mrs. Tuffs was accompanied by her youngest sister, Eva Rohr, who was studying opera in Rome. Eva Rohr is depicted playing the part of Marguerite in Gounod's Faust.
L. to r.: This trio of posthumous portraits represent Louise Adele Gould who died suddenly in 1883 at the age of 26. They were commissioned by her grieving husband, New York lawyer, Charles Gould. Gould never remarried. He was elected a trustee of the Met in 1915, donating two of the three sculptures to the museum. Upon his death in 1931 he bequested the third, his favorite (far right).
Augustus Saint-Gaudens by William Merritt Chase, 1888, bronze.
Daniel Huntington, who painted this portrait of Anna Watson Stuart, was one of Saint-Gaudens's teachers at the National Academy of Design. Huntington was the preferred portraitist of respectable New York Society during the 1860s. Anna Stuart is dressed in fashionable ermine and laces and on her right wrist she wears a cameo bracelet created by Saint-Gaudens. Jules Bastien-Lepage, 1880 (this cast, 1910), bronze. Saint-Gaudens and the French naturalist painter met in the late 1860s as students at the École des Beaux-Arts. A decade later, when Saint-Gaudens was again working in Paris, they renewed their acquaintance and exchanged works of art as gifts, as artists often did. This portrait is the largest of the bas-reliefs Saint-Gaudens completed during that Paris sojourn.
Cornelius Vanderbilt, 1882.
Karen Lemmey, Research Associate who assisted with this show, and Jason Edward Kaufman, Chief U.S. Correspondent for The Art Newspaper. Elga Zygas, Press Officer at the Metropolitan Museum.
William Henry II and Cornelius Vanderbilt III, 1882. William Henry II and Cornelius III were the sons of Cornelius II and Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt. William died while a student at Yale, Cornelius III was a brigadier general in World War I and a designer of a practical locomotive tender.
Decorative Work for Cornelius Vanderbilt II: 1880-83. Mahogany, ivory, mother-of-pearl, and coral. After completing the Farragut Monument in 1880, Saint-Gaudens returned to New York, where he was involved in several imposing residential projects, including those for Henry Villard with McKim, Mead & White and for Cornelius Vanderbilt II with George Browne Post. The 1880s saw the rise of a class of newly moneyed New Yorkers who made their millions in transportation and communications. Their demand for luxury goods and grand mansions was met by an ambitious group of architects, painters, sculptors, and decorators. These partnerships inspired some of the most remarkable artistic creations of the American Renaissance, when art and architecture stood as powerful reflections of the nation's increasing international power.
Designed by James Horton Whitehouse and manufactured by Tiffany & Co; at least five of the six medallions on the body were modeled by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Hiawatha, 1871-72; this carving, 1874, marble. Saint-Gaudens's three years of study in Paris came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. he left for Rome in late 1870 and soon began Hiawatha, his first full-length statue, inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha.
The Children of Prescott Hall Butler, 1880-81; this carving, 1906-1907. Saint-Gaudens modeled this portrait of Charles Stewart Butler and Lawrence Smith Butler dressed in Scottish Highland attire as a gift to their father, Prescott Hall Butler, from the architect Stanford White.
Vanderbilt mantlepiece, New York City, ca. 1881-83. Marble, mosaic, oak, cast iron. This mantlepiece originally dominated the entrance hall of the residence of Cornelius Vanderbilt II on Fifth Avenue at 57th Street (demolished 1925-27). Working for the architect George B. Post, the artist John La Farge created a lavish decorative program, to which Saint-Gaudens contributed many of the sculptural elements. Two classical caryatids, Amor (Love) and Pax (Peace), support the expansive entablature with bowed heads and upraised arms. The overmantle mosaic depicts a classically dressed woman holding a garland. The Latin phrase of hospitality flanking her head may be translated as "the house at its threshold gives evidence of the master's good will. Welcome to the guest who arrives; farewell and helpfulness to him who departs."
Rodman de Kay Gilder, 1879; this cast, probably 1880. In one of Saint-Gaudens's earliest representations of the innocence of childhood, the cherubic head of Rodman de Kay Gilder floats on a field of bronze. He was particularly pleased with the quality of this bronze, which he "cast on this side of the 'pond'" (rather than in Paris), at a time when the American bronze-casting industry was coming of age.
Amor Caritas, 1880-98; this cast, 1918, gilt bronze. Amor Caritas, represents the perfection of Saint-Gaudens's vision of the ethereal female, a subject that he modeled repeatedly, beginning in 1880. The elegant figure in a frontal pose with free-flowing draperies and downcast eyes also appears in the caryatids for the Vanderbilt mantlepiece and in several funerary works. Louise Adele Gould, 1893; this carving, 1894. The inscription reads: "She Seemed a Splendid / Angel Newly Dressed / Save Wings for Heaven."
On the way downtown I jumped off the Fifth Avenue bus to take a photo of this monument near The Plaza Hotel. During the curatorial tour, I had been told that it was impossible to take a photograph of this famous monument without a pigeon perched somewhere on it. Sure enough, a pigeon was sitting right on the top of General Sherman's head!
Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved.