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Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Sculptor

Centurion, 1886–1907

Born 1 March 1848 in Dublin, Ireland

Died 3 August 1907 in Cornish, New Hampshire

Buried Saint-Gaudens Memorial, Cornish City, New Hampshire

Proposed by Charles C. Beaman and John Q. A. Ward

Elected 6 November 1886 at age thirty-eight

Archivist’s Note: Father of Homer Saint-Gaudens

Supporter of:

Century Memorials

Augustus Saint-Gaudens was not quite sixty years of age when he died; for twenty-one years he had been our associate; born in Dublin, of parentage French and Irish but all Celtic, he became an American in early infancy and gave the devotion of his strong heart and his life to the land with which he is justly identified. His education was in the public schools of this city, in the workshops of skilled artisans, in the night schools of the Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design, and finally in the ateliers of Paris and Rome. It was never finished: from nature, man, and the storied mass of art achievement he was learning every day, growing always in strength, courage, and insight. In the presence of such a man there is a feeling of mystery, and as he walked among all sorts and conditions of his fellow-beings he was the rare and curious combination of a keen observer and a contemplative thinker. What he expressed in his sculpture was the subject seen athwart his own temperament; he was no classicist, nor yet was he either romanticist, realist, or impressionist. The critic may analyze his genius and trace the genesis of his style, the judgment of the public refuses, so far, to classify him. The medium of his expression is the most refractory known to the fine arts, but it was plastic for him; both his bronze and his stone preserve all the charm of what is malleable and adaptable. It were audacious, yes, even presumptuous, here to undertake any estimate of his work. His name has been in the mouths of ten thousands, his statues and reliefs are evident and accessible to admiring throngs, his contemporary renown is co-extensive with the world of art. The French bestowed their highest honor on him, two of the greatest American universities decorated him with their doctorates. It is not ours to pronounce the cold verdict of posterity, or prophesy the permanence of his fame. But nevertheless many here present believe that in the highest degree he caught the true spirit of America, especially of the generation that fought the Civil War, of a people who on both sides squandered their best in men, money, and energy for mere ideals, of a people whose first descendants still see visions and dream dreams about a national life based on civil justice, on liberty under law, on a comprehensive care for the spiritual, æsthetic, and intellectual, as well as the material interests of the whole people; of that unprecedented assemblage, who, from whatsoever clime they have come, one and all are Americans in aspiration. There are his portrait placques and low relief in portraiture, his vision of the unseen revealed in mortuary and architectural sculpture, and above all his heroic statuary to commemorate the leaders of the Civil War; in all these categories there is the poet, the seer, and the artist; the diviner of his generation and his people. If we may pay him this tribute he needs no other from us. Finally we must recall the presence of the living man, his gentle strength, his charm of person, his stimulating companionship, his disciplined, selective gift of friendship within these walls and far beyond them. Reduced to their lowest terms in a finite world, truth is clarity, beauty is insight, and behavior is discipline. No one who had ever had the companionship of Saint-Gaudens, even as a passing acquaintance, can have failed to perceive that in some degree he had a consciousness of such ultimate things.

William Milligan Sloane
1908 Century Association Yearbook

Saint-Gaudens was born in Dublin of a French father and Irish mother, but his family emigrated when he was six months old. He was apprenticed to a cameo-cutter but also took art classes in New York. At 19, his apprenticeship completed, he traveled to Paris and then Rome to study art and architecture. In Rome he met an American art student, Augusta Fisher, a fourth cousin of Winslow Homer, and they were married in 1877. With Augusta, he had one son, Homer Saint-Gaudens, and another son by his model and mistress.

In 1876, he received his first major commission; a monument to Civil War Admiral David Farragut, in Madison Square; his friend Stanford White designed an architectural setting for it. When it was unveiled in 1881, Saint-Gaudens’ reputation was established.

The commissions followed fast: the colossal Standing Lincoln in Lincoln Park, Chicago considered the finest portrait statue in America; the Adams Memorial, the Peter Cooper Monument, and the bronze bas-relief that forms the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial on Boston Common. He labored on it for 14 years. Two equestrian monuments to Civil War generals are outstanding: to General John A. Logan, atop a tumulus in Chicago, and to General William T. Sherman at the corner of Central Park in New York.

Chosen by Theodore Roosevelt to redesign the U.S. coinage, Saint-Gaudens produced a beautiful $20 gold piece that was adapted into a flattened-down version by the U.S. Mint. In 1904, he was one of the first seven chosen for membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters. That same year his large Cornish, NH, studio burned, with the irreplaceable loss of his sketch books, and many works in progress.

After initially being rejected, Saint-Gaudens was a member of the Century for 19 years till his death in 1907. His house and gardens are now preserved as National Historic Site.

James Charlton
“Centurions on Stamps,” Part I (Exhibition, 2010)