Published: May 27, 2003
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – The first US tour of works by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens will be on view at The Parrish Art Museum from June 8 through August 3. “Augustus Saint-Gaudens: Amer-ican Sculptor of the Gilded Age” features 75 of the sculptor’s most famous works — including reductions of major outdoor commissions, full-sized works cast in bronze, marble and plaster, portrait reliefs, decorative objects and coins.
Organized by the Trust for Museum Exhibitions, Washington, D.C., the exhibit is one of only four key exhibitions of the artist’s work presented in the United States since World War I. The Parrish Art Museum is the only New York venue in 2003 for this nationally traveling exhibition.
A panel of scholars will present the historical and social context for Saint-Gaudens’s landmark works on June 7, from 2 to 4:30 pm. The speakers include Joyce Schiller, deputy director of the Delaware Art Museum, on “Place, Time and the Architecture of Saint-Gaudens’ Public Monuments”; Alan Wallach, professor of art history and American studies at the College of William and Mary, on “Saint-Gaudens and his Patrons”; Alexis Boylan, assistant professor of art history, Lawrence University, on “Sculpting Sickness: Saint-Gaudens’ Robert Louis Stevenson Medallion”; and Henry Duffy, curator Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, “A Life in the Studio: Saint-Gaudens at Cornish.”
Helen Searing, the Alice Pratt Brown professor of art emeritus at Smith College, organized the symposium and will moderate. The exhibition’s opening reception will follow.
Acknowledged by scholars as the most important American sculptor of the Nineteenth Century, Saint-Gaudens is best-known for his civic monuments, particularly land-marks such as the Sherman Monument near the entrance to Central Park in New York City and the Adams Memorial in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C., which was perhaps his most famous collaboration with architect Stanford White. But it was through his monuments dedicated to the Civil War and its heroes that Saint-Gaudens acquired a national reputation. His memorial to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, one of the most moving depictions of African Americans in Nineteenth Century American art, is considered one of his finest achievements.
This exhibition will feature examples of seven other major projects, including his Abraham Lincoln, the Sherman monument, the Puritan and the Diana for the weathervane of Madison Square Garden.
When Saint-Gaudens’ career began, just after the Civil War, the prevailing style of American sculpture was neoclassical, highly finished, white marble sculpture of idealized or allegorical figures or personifications of abstract principles. The style was typified by such works as Horatio Greenough’s portrait of George Washington clad in a classical toga (1832-1841) or by Hiram Powers’s renowned “Greek Slave” (1841-1843). By the 1880s, Saint-Gaudens had transformed American sculpture by producing work in media and techniques that had been virtually unknown here, in particular, in low relief and bronze. He also created an entirely new genre of public sculpture, the now-familiar image of the great American leader presented in contemporary dress and settings.
Like the sculptors of the Italian Renaissance, he understood that in sculpture, depicted objects could seem to inhabit a spatial environment, and, like them, he developed a “painterly” style. The impressionistic, somewhat “unfinished” surfaces of Saint-Gaudens’s sculpture emphasize the play of light and present sculpture as art rather than mere waxwork reproduction. Saint-Gaudens used this technique in an extraordinary group of portrait reliefs that form an important part of the exhibition. His sitters included numerous leading artists and intellectuals of the day, as well as their patrons. Among those appearing in the exhibition are portraits of writer Robert Louis Stevenson; artists William Merritt Chase, Jules Bastien-Lepage and John Singer Sargent; patrons and critics Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer and Gertrude Vanderbilt (at the age of 7).
The exhibition at The Parrish offers an opportunity for viewers to experience Saint-Gaudens’s collaborations in other creative forms and his connections to the East End of Long Island. In addition to the works by Saint-Gaudens, a selection of Gilded Age paintings from the museum’s permanent collection will be on view. Of particular significance are works by American Impressionist William Merritt Chase, who was one of Saint-Gaudens’s close friends. Saint-Gaudens also worked intimately with museum founder Samuel Parrish, creating several portraits of the Parrish family, and consulted Parrish on marble copies of Roman emperor portraits for the Museum, which are on view in the museum’s arboretum.
The Parrish Art Museum is at 25 Job’s Lane. For information, 631-283-2118.
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