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  • Writer's pictureMichael Sloyan

The Irish man who sculpted American History

Updated: Mar 3

Augustus Saint-Gaudens was an Irish born artist & sculptor who would go on to become one of the greatest American sculptors and monument builders of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

He was born March 1st 1848 to an Irish mother and a French father in Dublin. The son of a shoemaker, Saint-Gaudens moved with his family to New York before he was one. Growing up in the city, he became interested in art, and after turning thirteen he left school to apprentice with a cameo cutter. While an apprentice, Saint-Gaudens took classes at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design. When he was nineteen he moved to Europe, where he continued his studies in both Paris and Rome. Studying classical art and architecture, Saint-Gaudens began to work as a professional sculptor.

Returning to America in 1880, Saint-Gaudens received his first major commission in New York City. Still considered one of his important works, The “Admiral Farragut” statue still stands in New York’s Madison Square Park.

In 1893 he would create the “Diana of the Tower” a copper weather vane placed on the tower of the original Madison Square Garden, New York. That sculpture is now housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

His many memorial sculptures of American heroes adorn parks and buildings across the USA including the colossal Abraham Lincoln: The Man in Lincoln Park, Chicago. Which is considered the finest portrait statue in the United States. A replica was placed at Lincoln's tomb in Springfield, Illinois, and another stands in Parliament Square, London. His bronze statue of General Sherman led by Victory, which still stands at the entrance to New York’s Central Park took eleven years to complete. His most famous work is the Adams Memorial at Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington DC.

Never forgetting his Irish roots Augustus Saint-Gaudens also created the statue for the monument of Charles Stewart Parnell, which was installed at the north end of Dublin's O'Connell Street in 1911.

In the early 20th century Augustus Saint-Gaudens was commissioned by President Theodore Roosevelt to redesign the American coinage, in particular was his design for a specific $20 gold piece of which only 20 coins were minted and are much sought after by collectors. In 2005 an Augustus Saint-Gaudens $20 gold coin sold at auction for $2,990,000.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens brilliant works of sculpture have made their mark on American and Irish culture and history. His wonderful works of art stand as testament to his genius 115 years after his death in 1907.

He was indeed a very successful Irish man!.

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