- Historic Sites
Adventures in Paris
American artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens finds inspiration in France to create one of America’s most iconic sculptures, a memorial to Civil War hero Adm. David Farragut
Fall 2011 | Volume 61, Issue 2
Casting the statue in plaster was scheduled to begin on Monday, February 9. "There are nineteen great bags of plaster here," Gussie reported from the studio, "and any quantity of bars of iron and they will all go into the statue. They will be four days making the mold and then . . . the plaster statue will be cast." By the middle of May the plaster statue was ready to be moved to the long-established Gruet Foundry, there to be cast in bronze. It was not only essential that such a foundry be experienced, Saint-Gaudens insisted, but that he be on hand to supervise the entire process. The cost was a substantial $1,200, as Gussie wrote to her parents.
Taking part in the whole process day after day at the foundry, Saint-Gaudens became a nervous wreck. Two weeks later, when the lower half of the statue was cast, something went wrong, and it had to be done all over, at considerable expense. When at last the whole cast was done, the statue complete in bronze, its entire outer surface had to be expertly finished, with, as Saint-Gaudens wanted, the admiral's buttons and insignia given a slightly brighter gloss.
Finally the completed work—weighing 900 pounds—had to be carefully packed up, shipped by rail to Le Havre, and sent on its way aboard ship to New York. It was the largest work of sculpture in bronze by an American ever shipped from France until then.
With White he had worked out the design for the pedestal, which the commission accepted aftermuch wrangling. It would place the statue fully nine feet above ground level and include tall, slightly curved stone facades reaching out to either side, these to provide a comfortable place to sit (an exedra, as it was known) as well as space for the two large allegorical figures in relief representing Loyalty and Courage, combined with a motif of fish and waves at sea. This entire composition was being done in Hudson River bluestone, with the thought that its color would add further to the nautical theme. A lettered tribute to the admiral, composed by White's father, was also to be included.
The relief figures of Loyalty and Courage were major works unto themselves, in which Augustus's brother Louis took part. They were seated figures as large in scale as Farragut, their arms reaching out three feet. They were beautiful and unadorned, with the look of twin sisters, though the expression on the face of Courage was a touchmore resolute and she wore breast armor, while Loyalty was partly bare-breasted. It was a pedestal unlike any ever seen in New York or anywhere else in the United States.
THE GRAND UNVEILING took place at Madison Square on the afternoon of May 25, 1881. AMarine band played; sailors marched. The celebrated New York attorney and orator Joseph H. Choate delivered an extended tribute to the admiral, and 10,000 people stood in the hot sun through the length of it.
Seated on the speakers' platform, along with some 45 " notables "—including Mrs. Farragut, the mayor, the governor, church pastors, admirals, generals, and commissioners—could be seen the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and his wife. It was his first experience with public acclaim, and it was happening in his own hometown.
The monument was a stunning success. The critics were exuberant, the whole art world electrified. The New York Times hailed the Farragut with the headline "A BEAUTIFUL AND REMARKABLE WORK OF ART, AND MR. SAINT-GAUDENS'S TRIUMPH." The two basrelief figures of Loyalty and Courage ought to be ranked among the finest achievements of sculpture in America, the Times continued. "The faces are naturally . . . and most carefully worked. Here a weak man would fail."
The character of the indomitable admiral "shines from the sculptured face," wrote the critic for the New York Evening Post. The sculptor's work impressed one not as a statue but as a livingman. "The spectator does not feel the bronze, he does not feel the sculptor; he feels the presence of the Admiral himself."
A few days after the unveiling, at about midnight, Saint-Gaudens, Gussie, and a friend were walking up Fifth Avenue, on their way home from a party. As they approached Madi son Square, they saw an elderly man standing alone in the moonlight, looking at the statue. Recognizing his father, Saint-Gaudens went to him and asked what he was doing there at such an hour.
"Oh, you go about your business!" his father answered. "Haven't I got a right to be here?"