Sculpture Belonged to Family of Lincoln’s White House Aide John Hay.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has acquired one of only 16 known casts of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Abraham Lincoln, the Man (Standing Lincoln), a rare, authorized reduction of the large bronze monument that the sculptor originally created for Lincoln Park in Chicago between 1884 and 1887.
The Met’s 40-1/2-inch-high bronze statuette was one of a limited number authorized by the artist (1848-1907) under the terms of his estate and cast between 1911 and the early 1920s by Tiffany Studios and Gorham Manufacturing Co. The sculptor himself planned the limited edition castings, and their production was supervised by Saint-Gaudens’s mold makers, founders, and studio assistants. After Saint-Gaudens’s death, his widow marketed the castings for museum, library, and domestic display. The Met’s bronze almost certainly dates to 1911, and based on its early documented provenance, was one of the first two statuettes to be completed.
The magnificently preserved cast was originally in the collection of Clara Stone Hay, the widow of President Abraham Lincoln’s onetime assistant private secretary, John M. Hay, who went on to co-author a 10-volume biography of Lincoln for the Century Company in the 1880s, and later served as U. S. Secretary of State under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. Hay, who called Lincoln “The Tycoon,” kept a diary during his years on the staff of the White House (where he also lived from 1861 to 1865), considered by scholars as the most important source of first-hand recollections of the Lincoln Administration. During the “Great Secession Winter” of 1860-1861, and on through the Civil War, Hay also wrote pseudonymous newspaper articles supporting the President-elect, later the President—a common practice of the day.
“The Metropolitan is delighted to acquire its first major portrait of Abraham Lincoln—at the precise moment that we are re-opening our re-designed galleries for American paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts,” commented Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Museum. “Lincoln is the quintessential American icon, and Saint-Gaudens has long held a special place in our collection. Of course, the portrait has particular significance for the Met, a museum founded in the wake of the American Civil War. It is an ideal addition to our collections.”
Thayer Tolles, Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture, said: “The Standing Lincoln statuette joins the Metropolitan’s wonderfully broad collection of more than 50 works by Saint-Gaudens. As the sculptured representation of Lincoln par excellence, it is fitting that the Met finally is represented by this singular commission, the one that proclaimed Saint-Gaudens as an artist of international stature.”
The sculpture shows Lincoln, full figure, hand on lapel and head bowed in a manner contemporaries described as characteristic, standing in front of a klismos-type chair of state. One of the orators at the unveiling of the original heroic statue in 1887 said that the sculptor’s intent was “to present Lincoln, the President, burdened with the responsibilities of the hour, giving audience to a delegation of the people, who presented for his consideration matters of grave public concern.”
The newly acquired statuette will be shown in the Peter M. Sacerdote Gallery (devoted to the Civil War and Reconstruction) in the Metropolitan Museum’s new American Wing Galleries for Paintings, Sculpture, and Decorative Arts, which opened to the public January 16 after a four-year renovation, expansion, and reinstallation. It will initially be displayed near a bronze cast (once owned by Saint-Gaudens himself) of Leonard Wells Volk’s 1860 life mask and his cast of Lincoln’s right hand, which Saint-Gaudens owned and consulted for his own work a generation later. The Met purchased Saint-Gaudens’s Standing Lincoln statuette from a private collector, in whose family the sculpture has resided since 1943.
The original bronze was dedicated in Lincoln Park, Chicago on October 22, 1887, in a setting designed by Stanford White. The statue was officially unveiled by Abraham Lincoln II, the President’s 14-year-old grandson and namesake, who would live only another three years. The dedicatory address was offered by Leonard Swett, a leading Illinois attorney who had ridden the judicial circuit with then-lawyer Abraham Lincoln for 11 years. Swett proclaimed that the statue revealed more of the man he knew than any sculpture he had ever beheld.
A replica was later created for Parliament Square in the shadows of Westminster Abbey, and presented to the British people in 1914 by the American National Committee for the Celebration of the Centenary of the Treaty of Ghent. An entirely different statue was originally designed for the prestigious site, but Lincoln’s son, Robert T. Lincoln (a close friend of John Hay’s), intervened and urged that the Saint-Gaudens sculpture be cast for London instead. Saint-Gaudens later used the same pose of Lincoln with downcast head for a seated statue, which was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum during the centennial of Lincoln’s birth in 1909, after which it was sent briefly to San Francisco, then returned to Chicago and unveiled there near the Art Institute in 1926.
Saint-Gaudens was the subject of a retrospective special exhibition at The Metropolitan in 2009.