Monday 16 September 2019

What lies beneath: Abraham Lincoln: The Man by Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Abraham Lincoln: The Man by Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Bronze. Lincoln Park, Chicago

Abraham Lincoln: The Man by Augustus Saint-Gaudens
Abraham Lincoln: The Man by Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Niall MacMonagle

Four new Democratic members of the US Congress were advised by President Trump, on July 14, to go back to the corrupt countries they came from.

Two days later, he tweeted "I haven't a racist bone in my body". And three of those members were born in the US, "the land of the free, and the home of the brave".

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Go figure.

Trump is the 45th POTUS but whatever about The Donald, America's 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, is still remembered and admired for his progressive views on race.

In his second inaugural address, Lincoln spoke of "malice toward none" and "charity for all". This 3.6 metre-high sculpture by Dublin-born Augustus Saint-Gaudens honours a man who indeed made America great. Completed in 1887, 22 years after Lincoln's assassination in 1865, the original stands in Lincoln Park, Chicago. Replicas are found in Mexico, London and Illinois. Saint-Gaudens was at Lincoln's Inauguration, he saw him lying in state and when this sculpture was unveiled, 10,000 people attended.

Saint-Gaudens's mother was from Ballymahon, Co Longford; his father, a shoemaker, was French, and although Saint-Gaudens was born in Dublin in 1848, his family left for New York when he was six months old. When he died, aged 59, in 1907, he was, according to one obituary, "the most famous sculptor to spring from Irish soil".

Saint-Gaudens studied in New York, Paris and Rome, returned to America, married Augusta Homer and the couple and their son Homer moved to Boston and settled in Cornish, New Hampshire. He had another son, Louis, with his favourite model and mistress, Davida Johnson Clark. She was the inspiration for Saint-Gaudens's sculpture of the Goddess Diana but he's best known for his sculptures that commemorate the American Civil War.

His serious, quiet, contemplative Lincoln stands tall. About to give a speech, Lincoln's left hand is close to his heart and a plaster cast of Lincoln's life mask allowed Saint-Gaudens to portray the "inner" Lincoln, what Saint-Gaudens also called "the character, the life, the emotions, and very soul of the man".

In 1900, Saint-Gaudens was commissioned to commemorate Parnell, and planned to return to Dublin, but a cancer diagnosis prevented travel. He studied and researched Parnell's career, ordered photographs and engravings but also a suit from Parnell's tailor because Saint-Gaudens said he wanted to capture in The Parnell Monument on O'Connell Street, his final masterpiece, "the nobility and calmness of his bearing".

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