Augustus Saint–Gaudens (American, 18481907)
Marble; 25 x 12 in. (63.5 x 30.5 cm)
Gift of Erving Wolf Foundation, 1976 (1976.388)
The strong bonds of friendship between Saint-Gaudens and the architect Stanford White (18531906) resulted in frequent artistic collaborations. On the occasion of White's marriage to Bessie Springs Smith in 1884, Saint-Gaudens created as a gift this classically inspired relief portrait of Bessie garbed in her wedding attire. Bessie White sat for Saint-Gaudens on several occasions. Early sketches depict the bride in three-quarter length, either arranging her veil in front of a mirror or with hands at her sides. In the final result, the mirror is absent: Bessie appears alone, enveloped in her long, flowing veil. Her half-length profile faces left and her right arm is raised, delicately brushing the veil from her face. In her left hand she holds a bunch of roses, their unfolding blooms symbols of a bride on the threshold of maturity. Saint-Gaudens' handling reveals skilled transitions from shallow to high relief. Whereas the veil is rendered with sketchy detail, the face is fully modeled, the nose three-dimensional, and the chin deeply undercut. The extreme undulation of the pictorial field allows for considerable contrasts of light and shadow, from the translucent sheen of Mrs. White's cheek to the dark recesses under her left hand.
The craftsman Joseph Cabus produced the elegant Renaissance Revival gilt-wood frame for White. It has an overhanging dentilated cornice and an allover floral-and-scroll design.