Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American, 1848–1907)
19 x 13 3/4 in. (48.3 x 34.9 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Augustus Saint-Gaudens, 1912 (12.29)
Although the circumstances leading to Saint-Gaudens' modeling of Samuel Gray Ward's likeness are not known, this bas-relief was one of the sculptor's earliest portrait commissions. Ward (18171907) was a founder of the Metropolitan Museum and its first treasurer. Over his long lifetime, he cultivated myriad artistic and literary interests while working as a financier. He was an intimate of Ralph Waldo Emerson and his circle, and an enthusiastic patron of the arts, particularly prints. Of the more than eighty reliefs Saint-Gaudens completed, he considered Ward's portrait one of his finest efforts. The sense that the sculptor's clay approaches the immediacy of paint is particularly evident in the richly mottled texture of Ward's jacket and in the wiry bristles of his beard and mustache. Only one-eighth inch deep, it was in the lowest relief Saint-Gaudens had attempted. Not only is the physical depth of the bronze slight, but Saint-Gaudens further minimized any illusion of depth in the composition itself, so that there is little sense of fore-, middle, and background. Ward's half-length figure is rendered in profile, facing right, with hands clasped in his lap, and he is depicted seated in a chair. The background is etched with an allover pattern of tiny horizontal lines that interact with the fluid treatment of the figure, particularly the hands.