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Exhibition at Michener explores legacies of Gilded Age sculptors


The James A. Michener Art Museum presents “Monuments and Myths: The America of Sculptors Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Daniel Chester French,” the first exhibition to explore the intersecting careers and significance of two of America’s preeminent sculptors of the Gilded Age.

The exhibition will be on view at Michener Art Museum in Doylestown from June 29 through Jan. 5.

Daniel Chester French (1850–1931) and Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907) were friends and sometimes rivals who transformed sculpture in the United States. They produced dozens of the nation’s most recognizable public artworks, including French’s “Seated Abraham Lincoln” in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and Saint-Gaudens’s “Diana, which” graced the top of Madison Square Garden in New York.

Saint-Gaudens was born in Dublin, Ireland and immigrated to New York as an infant. French was born in Exeter, N.H. After coming of age in Civil War America and training in Europe, both artists returned to the United States in a moment when sculpture had immense power to shape the visual and intellectual landscape of the nation during a period of rapid industrial growth and developing sociopolitical structures.

“Monuments and Myths” features approximately 70 sculptures, models, maquettes, and more drawn from the collections of the two artists’ historic homes, the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park and French’s Chesterwood. The exhibition features six thematic sections, beginning with an overview of the artists’ thriving studio practices in rural New England, both of which were dynamic spaces of creativity, education, and exchange.

Between 1860 and 1920, Americans experienced the Civil War, World War I, and the influenza epidemic of 1918. French’s and Saint-Gaudens’s funerary monuments and looks at how, during this extended period of unfathomable human loss, the two sculptors’ evocations of beauty and mystery played a vital role in shaping evolving attitudes toward death, grief, and memorialization.

With an aesthetic of remarkable formal elegance, Gaudens and French created a picture of national ambition rooted in conceptions of liberty, grandeur, and common cause. Filled with multiple meanings and contested histories, the artworks in this exhibition encourage visitors to question the stories that public art tells and to explore what histories remain hidden from view.

“It is an opportune time to examine the role of historic monuments, and the impact of these sculptures and how their legacy continues to influence our perception of America,” said Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest Chief Curator Laura Turner Igoe.

Visitors can also enjoy a related exhibition from Bucks County artist George Anthonisen, who served as sculptor-in-residence at the Saint Gaudens National Historical Park in the 1970s. “George R. Anthonisen: Meditations on the Human Condition” celebrates Anthonisen’s 65-year artistic career of creating visual dialogues with his figurative sculptures. The exhibition is open until Oct. 13 and features more than 40 bronze sculptures, maquettes, and frescoes on view both in the galleries and the museum’s Sculpture Garden.

Related exhibition programming includes: Art After Dark: Monuments and Myths Live Performance, 6-8 p.m. Thursday, July 11; Virtual Conversation: Behind the Scenes of Monuments and Myths, 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 31; and Putman Arts Leader Lecture Series: Thayer Tolles on Monuments and Myths, 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26.

For information and to register for events, visit

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