Mitchell (Three Strides Before the Wire: The Dark and Beautiful World of Horse Racing, 2002, etc.) maintains a light touch in this examination of the life of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904), the designer of the Statue of Liberty.
A proud Alsatian whose widowed mother moved him and his older brother to Paris to further their artistic careers, Bartholdi studied under painter Ary Scheffer and was influenced by the work of architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in his restoration of Notre-Dame. Having visited and drawn the monuments of the Nile Valley, Bartholdi fancied stone as his “mania” and initially proposed to the khedive of Egypt a colossal statue of a female slave holding a torch to stand at the mouth of the Suez Canal, a construction-in-progress marvel by engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps. Bartholdi maintained that his idea for a lighthouse in the form of “the angel Liberty” was in fact inspired by a poem by Victor Hugo. Spurred by the pro-American views of writer Édouard René de Laboulaye, whose bust Bartholdi was commissioned to make, and faced with revolution in Paris in 1871, he set sail for New York to try to sell his idea, especially as newly fashioned Central and Prospect parks needed statues—although nothing quite this large. Bedloe’s Island in the harbor, containing 14 acres and a crumbling fort, seemed a perfect site, but it would take until October 1886 for the enormous funds to be gathered and the statue actually dedicated. Bit by bit, Bartholdi drummed up support from Franco-American friends and the American wealthy, from President Ulysses S. Grant to architect Richard Morris Hunt, while relying on the engineering know-how of Viollet-le-Duc and ironworker Honoré Monduit, as well as invaluable advice from bridge builder Gustave Eiffel.
A low-key, mannered treatment of the realization of a great vision.