Saint Gaudens and His Sherman

Sculpting the Sherman Monument

Augustus Saint Gaudens, recognized since his Farragut, 1880, as one of America’s most skilled and innovative sculptors, was already ill in 1891, when he accepted the commission for an equestrian sculpture of William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891). Saint Gaudens was the obvious choice for the project, since he was the only sculptor for whom the impatient Sherman willingly posed. “Look here, General! When you see portraits of Bismarck, Von Moltke and other great generals, their coats are always buttoned up tight to the throat, and they look their rank. Do just for a short time button yours up and set your tie straight so I can get it as it should be.” “I don’t give a tinker’s damn how men chose to wear their coats, but I want you to know that the General of the Army of the United States will wear his coat any damn way he pleases.”

Augustus Saint Gaudens, General William Tecumseh Sherman, 1888. This cast 1912. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift by subscription through the Saint-Gaudens Memorial Committee, 1912. Photo: MetMuseum.org

Augustus Saint Gaudens, General William Tecumseh Sherman, 1888; this cast 1912. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift by subscription through the Saint-Gaudens Memorial Committee, 1912. Photo: MetMuseum.org

Saint Gaudens’s concept  for the Sherman Monument – a combination of down-to-earth, realistic soldier with a classical figure – could have gone very wrong. He spent a decade making it right. Given his illness, he relied on assistants to carry out much of the physical work. Here’s my favorite story about Saint Gaudens, as told in a biography written by his son Homer.

 “I am going to invent a machine to make you all good sculptors” [said Saint Gaudens].

The stillness promptly became uneasy.

“It will have hooks for the back of your necks, and strong springs.”

The stillness grew even more uneasy.

“Every 30-seconds it will jerk you fifty feet away from your work, and hold you there for five minutes contemplation.”

Saint Gauden’s Sherman stands newly refurbished and pigeon-free at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street. Grand, sweeping hat’s-off to the Central Park Conservancy, which keeps this and other sculptures in the park beautifully maintained. I have a 1970s book on outdoor sculpture in NYC that shows works covered with graffiti and pigeon poop: I am very appreciative!

Augustus Saint Gaudens, Sherman Monument, dedicated 1903. Photo copyright (c) 2015 Dianne L. Durante

Augustus Saint Gaudens, Sherman Monument, dedicated 1903. Photo copyright (c) 2015 Dianne L. Durante

The Mears Plaque

Given how much I love Saint Gaudens’s Sherman, you can imagine my delight when the most recent email from Conner-Rosenkranz, a New York gallery, had this image attached.

Helen Farnsworth Mears, __, 1898. Photo: Conner-Rosenkranz

Helen Farnsworth Mears, Augustus Saint Gaudens, 1898. Photo: Conner-Rosenkranz (used with permission)

When Helen Farnsworth Mears (1872-1916) modeled this plaque in 1898, she was in Paris, working with Augustus Saint Gaudens on the Sherman Monument. The gilded relief, only 8.5 inches high, commemorates one of the greatest American sculptors and his last major work.

I’ve been on Conner-Rosenkranz‘s mailing list for years, even though the original art they carry is out of my price range. In return for the amazing brochures they’ve sent me (a couple are tacked on my wall), I’m delighted to be able to spread the word about the gallery. Want to own 28-inch bronze of MacMonnies’ Nathan Hale or a 100-inch gilded bronze Diana by Saint Gaudens? This is the gallery to go to.

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About Dianne L. Durante

I’m an independent scholar and freelance writer /lecturer on art and art history, with forays into food, history, politics, and publishing. My most recent projects are *Innovators in Sculpture¸* a survey of 5,000 years of art in two hours, and *Monuments of Manhattan,* a videoguide app by Guides Who Know that’s based on my book *Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide.*

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