Saint-Gaudens, Augustus (1848–1907), sculptor, was born 1 March 1848 at 35 Charlemont St., Dublin, eldest of three surviving sons of Bernard Saint-Gaudens, shoemaker, of Aspet, Gascony, France, and Mary Saint-Gaudens (née McGuiness), a plasterer's daughter, of Ballymahon, Co. Longford. His parents had met in a Dublin shoe factory where both worked; two elder brothers born in Dublin died before Augustus's birth. When six months old he was brought by his parents to the US (September 1848), settling in New York city, where Bernard soon opened a thriving shop making and selling high-fashion, French-style ladies’ boots and shoes. Augustus was educated in New York public schools until age thirteen, then apprenticed as a cameo cutter (1861–7), studying evenings at Cooper Institute art school and the National Academy of Design. Supporting himself with cameo work, he trained in sculpture in Paris (1867–70), initially at the Petite École, then at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts. While working in Rome (1870–75), where he carved cameos, portrait busts, and copies of classical statues for wealthy tourists, and executed two original full-size marbles, he became engaged to Augusta Fisher Homer, a painting student from Boston. Returning to New York (1875–7), he sought a lucrative commission that would allow their marriage. Contracted to execute a memorial to the American civil war naval commander David Glasgow Farragut, he married Augusta (June 1877) and immediately embarked with her for Paris, where his studio became a gathering place for expatriate American artists (1877–80). Unveiled in 1881 at Madison Square Park, New York, the Farragut monument – a bronze figure atop a carved bluestone pedestal and bench – was immediately hailed by artists and critics alike as a breakthrough in American art, revolutionary for its dynamic realism combined with allegory, and for the unity of its conception. It was the first of numerous collaborations with architect Stanford White; the careful attention to site, landscaping, and architectural detail in creating a comprehensive artistic environment would be characteristic of Saint-Gaudens's subsequent career.
Based in New York (1880–97), Saint-Gaudens held a place among the most renowned artists in America. His oeuvre (over 150 works in marble and – his forte – bronze) establishes his reputation as the preeminent American sculptor of the nineteenth century. Notable amongst his public monuments are those honouring civil war leaders: the standing figure ‘Abraham Lincoln: the man’ (1884–7; Lincoln Park, Chicago); the seated figure ‘Abraham Lincoln: the head of state’ (1897–1906; Grant Park, Chicago); the imposingly situated equestrian monument to General and US Senator John A. Logan (1894–7; Grant Park/Michigan Ave., Chicago); ‘General Sherman led by Victory’ (1892–1903; Central Park, 59th St. entrance, New York), a gilded bronze equestrian, both resplendent and terrifying, of the conqueror of Georgia, set upon a pink granite base. Two works widely popularised in later reductions were ‘The puritan’ (1883–6; Springfield, Mass.), a paradigmatic representation; and the nude ‘Diana’ (second version 1892–4, latterly in Philadelphia Museum of Art) in gilded copper atop the tower of old Madison Square Garden, New York, which weathered scandalised commentary to become (until the building's demolition in 1925) one of the city's foremost landmarks. Perhaps the most moving of his works to early twenty-first-century sensibility are two in contrasting modes. As an image of corporate self-sacrifice in service to human emancipation and the inclusive, multi-racial democratic ideal, the Robert Gould Shaw/54th Massachusetts memorial (1884–97; Boston Common) transcends the platitudes of military commemoration. A bold medley of high and low relief and sculpture in the round, the work depicts a mounted white commanding officer amid the marching infantry of the first regularly constituted black regiment in the union army. Working from live models, Saint-Gaudens rendered one of the first dignified, thoroughly realistic, depictions of black people in American art, neither racist caricature nor generic stereotype. For the Adams memorial (1886–91; Rock Creek cemetery, Washington, DC), commissioned by historian Henry Adams after the suicide of his wife, Saint-Gaudens drew on Japanese Buddhist models and Michelangelo's Sistine sibyls to create an enigmatic, shrouded figure, androgynous and contemplative, regarded as a harbinger of the modernist temper.
Saint-Gaudens sculpted over 100 portraits in various media of family, friends, and patrons, exhibiting remarkably subtle skills of drawing and modelling and a masterful facility for realistic representation while capturing character and mood. A version of an 1887–8 portrait became the basis for the famed Robert Louis Stevenson memorial in St Giles cathedral, Edinburgh (1899–1904). A leading personality of the American ‘gilded age’, he moved among statesmen, financiers, and socialites, fulfilling their commissions for portraits, house decoration, and funerary memorials. A director and commissioner of sculpture for the 1893 Chicago World Columbian Exposition, he found his original design for the presentation medal rejected by a US senate committee for its inclusion of a nude male figure. A generous mentor of young talent, especially encouraging to women students, he taught at New York's Art Students League (1888–97) and was co-founder of the American Academy in Rome (1894). Seeking wider recognition in Europe, he moved to Paris (1897–1900), where, through the promotion of Auguste Rodin, he exhibited an unprecedented fifteen works at the 1898 Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and won the Grand Prix at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle. Three months later he was diagnosed with colon cancer and returned to America for surgery. For his remaining seven years (1900–07) he lived and worked at Cornish, New Hampshire, his summer home since 1885. An adviser to the Macmillan commission for the redesign and park planning of Washington, DC (1901–4), he fulfilled a request by President Theodore Roosevelt and designed a new American gold coinage (1905–7). A rare foreign recipient of the French Légion d'honneur (1901), he received honorary degrees from Princeton (1897), Harvard (1897), and Yale (1905) universities and was elected to the National Academy of Arts and Letters (1904).
His last completed major work was the Dublin monument (1903–7) to Charles Stewart Parnell (qv). With his characteristic attention to detail, he studied photographs and drawings of Parnell, ordered an entire suit of clothes from Parnell's former Dublin tailor, and constructed a scale model of the proposed site in Upper Sackville St./Rutland Square. Hoping to capture ‘the commanding spirit of Parnell, and the nobility and calmness of his bearing’ (quoted in O'Keefe, 17), and mindful of Parnell's legacy as a formidable parliamentary debater, he chose to depict his subject in the act of speaking, with right arm outstretched in the characteristic pose of the orator in classical Roman statuary. In September 1904 John Redmond (qv), prime mover of the monument project, visited Saint-Gaudens's Cornish studio and inspected the near-completed plaster work; he addressed a public meeting in neighbouring Windsor, Vermont, establishing a branch of the United Irish League of America, with Saint-Gaudens named to the committee. A fortnight later (October 1904) the ‘Parnell’ was all but entirely destroyed in a devastating studio fire, from which the head alone was rescued. With Saint-Gaudens suffering worsening health, most of the modelling of the resumed work was done by his chief assistant, Henry Hering. A full-size wooden replica of the monument's base and 60-ft obelisk, designed by New York architect Henry Bacon, was constructed in a field alongside a new studio. Redmond suggested the quotation from a Parnell speech as an inscription, with Saint-Gaudens himself proposing the addition of a line in Irish language and lettering. Saint-Gaudens intended going to Dublin to oversee the installation, but a month after the bronze casting was shipped to Ireland, he died in Cornish on 3 August 1907. The construction of the base and obelisk in Galway Shantalla granite – an economising and nationalistic departure from the sculptor's wish for either costly green Connemara marble or a foreign stone – was supervised by Dublin architect George Sheridan. The work was unveiled on 1 October 1911 to mark the twentieth anniversary of Parnell's death. A bronze relief portrait plaque of Saint-Gaudens was installed in the pavement facing the monument in 2007 to mark the centenary of the sculptor's death, but was subsequently removed to accommodate tracks of the LUAS light-rail line; at time of writing (October 2020) the plaque is in storage pending possible reinstatement in a suitable Dublin location.
Saint-Gaudens and his wife had a son, Homer Saint-Gaudens (1880–1968), who edited and amplified The reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1913) and became director of the Carnegie Institute Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Another son, Louis Clark, was born to his long-time mistress and model, Davida Johnson Clark. The sculptor's brother, Louis Saint-Gaudens (1854–1913), also a sculptor and assistant to his brother over many years, executed original work, notably the statuary in Boston Public Library and in Union Station, Washington, DC. Saint-Gaudens's widow (d. 1926) developed their home at Cornish as a memorial and museum, latterly administered by the National Park Service as the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, the only such site to an American artist. The chief archival repositories are the Baker Library, Dartmouth University, Hanover, NH, USA (Saint-Gaudens collection), and the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, which also exhibits work on location and has an informative illustrated website at www.sgnhs.org.