To late nineteenth-century Americans Augustus Saint-Gaudens was well known as a sculptor of public monuments rendered in a naturalistic, vital, and thoroughly modern aesthetic. A son of French-Irish immigrants, Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907) embodied the American success story, rising from humble Lower East Side circumstances to become the finest American sculptor of his day, attracting international acclaim and patronage. Born in Dublin, Ireland, he was the quintessential cosmopolite artist—during his four-decade career he moved effortlessly between studios in New York, Paris, Rome, and his beloved Cornish, New Hampshire. He counted among his friends a cultural who's who: writers Henry James and William Dean Howells, artists John Singer Sargent and Maxfield Parrish, and architects Stanford White and Charles McKim, and his clients included Cornelius Vanderbilt II and President Theodore Roosevelt. But Saint-Gaudens always remained self-effacing, quipping that it was his exotic name (as he said, pronounced Gaudens, as in "gaudy") as much as his sculptures that brought him distinction. Whether or not his name is as broadly familiar today, his art remains celebrated and relevant, from the gilded equestrian monument to William Tecumseh Sherman in New York to the storied twenty-dollar "double eagle" gold piece he designed for President Roosevelt.
The Metropolitan's collection of works by Saint-Gaudens numbers 45—in marble, bronze, plaster, terracotta, and even shell. His association with the Museum is reflected not only in these tangible objects but also through his career-long connections with its staff and trustees and their tireless efforts to assemble a comprehensive memorial exhibition of 154 works in the Great Hall in 1908. In subsequent years, a representative group of Saint-Gaudens's sculptures entered the collection through astute purchases and generous gifts and bequests. Now, just over one hundred years after the artist's death, the Metropolitan's holdings of his works continue to grow steadily, affirming the adage "adding strength to strength." Saint-Gaudens's engaging story and his substantial legacy at the Metropolitan are detailed in this issue of the Bulletin, written by Thayer Tolles, Associate Curator in the Department of American Paintings and Sculpture.