The first comprehensive biography of a great American sculptor.
Award-winning historian and Abraham Lincoln scholar Holzer (1865: America Makes War and Peace in Lincoln's Final Year, 2015, etc.) offers a much-needed biography of the little-known American sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931). The author begins his superb book with a stirring account of the 1922 dedication of the Lincoln Memorial. At the front of the large crowd was President Warren G. Harding and Lincoln’s son, Robert, while off to the side, “unrecognized by most,” sat the “thin, aging,” New England sculptor of the iconic, 240-ton marble statue, which is “now regarded as the most famous sculpture ever created of or by an American.” Black dignitaries, meanwhile, were seated on benches a “block away.” French was largely self-taught, and his supportive father enlisted instruction for his teenage son from the “accomplished watercolor painter May Alcott.” Afterward, French joked, he decided to become a sculptor. His “talent was undeniable.” In lavish detail, Holzer chronicles the development of French’s career. His first major commission was Minute Man bronze monument (1875) in Concord, Massachusetts, for which he received “rhapsodic reviews” and generous royalties from popular reproductions. His impressive The Awakening of Endymion followed, and then a commission to sculpt Ralph Waldo Emerson, who exclaimed, “That is the face that I shave!” With his sculpture of the renowned deaf educator Thomas Gallaudet, Holzer writes, French reached a “new plateau of virtuosity.” His “hard-won status” was now secure, and two of his sculptures, including the colossal Republic, were exhibited at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. In 1903, French was elected to the board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and assisted them in acquiring crucial American works of sculpture. He accepted the Lincoln commission in 1915. Its dedication would be the “crowning moment” of “French’s long and extraordinary career.”
This beautifully written, impeccably researched biography does much to resuscitate French’s substantial contributions to American art.