Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi
Biography of French Sculptor, creator of the Statue of Liberty.

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Statue of Liberty (1886) detail
New York Harbour, USA
305 feet tall. Designed by
Bartholdi, engineered by
Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923), and
Viollet-le-Duc (1814-79); plinth
by Richard Morris Hunt (1827-95)

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development of the plastic arts
see: History of Sculpture.

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Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904)

One of the most popular of 19th century sculptors, the French Alsatian artist Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi is best-known for creating the Statue of Liberty ("Liberty Enlightening the World") which stands in New York Harbour. See also: 19th Century architecture.

This iconic statue was donated by France to the United States of America during the centenary celebrations of American independence, in 1886, and it remains one of the most widely recognized structures in the world.

Other important works of sculpture by Bartholdi include the Lion of Belfort (1880, Belfort, France) and Monument to General Rapp (1856, Bartholdi Museum, Colmar).


Born in Colmar, Alsace, on the border of France/Germany, Bartholdi studied architecture in Alsace before moving to Paris to study painting with the artist Ary Scheffer. However, Bartholdi soon turned his attention exclusively to the art of sculpture, studying under the sculptors Soitoux and Antoine Etex. He was only 19 when he first exhibited at the Salon in 1853. Then, in 1856, he travelled to the Middle East on an Orientalist painting trip with several other artists including Jean-Leon Gerome (1824-1904), and it was during this tour that he and the others conceived a plan for the Statue of Liberty, in commemoration of the Franco-American Alliance of 1778.

Statue of Liberty

The French and American Government wished to commemorate the fraternal feeling which existed between their two republics, and Bartholdi's suggestion for a colossal statue of 'Liberty Enlightening the World' was accepted. In 1879 Bartholdi received a US Patent for his design, which allowed him to produce small reproductions of the statue for sale. The proceeds from these sales helped realise funds for building the full scale version. The structure would be 151 feet tall, but including its pedestal and foundation it reached 305 feet. The famous Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was less than a third of the Statue's height.


Standing on Liberty Island, the statue is often the first sight visitors and immigrants see when travelling to America by ship. Bartholdi was responsible for the sculptural design of the statue, and Gustave Eiffel's chief engineer Maurice Koechlin designed the internal structure. The statue is made of pure copper sheathing, using the repoussé technique (designed by the French medievalist architect Viollet-le-Duc), placed over a steel structure. The flame of the torch is coated in gold leaf. It was rumoured that the body of Liberty was modelled on the artist's mistress and that the face is that of his mother.

Before commencing work on the statue, Bartholdi travelled to America to personally choose the site, on New York Harbour for his creation. Dedicated in 1886, the statue's full title of 'Liberty Enlightening the World' was quickly shortened to the 'Statue of Liberty'.

Lion of Belfort

Although the Statue of Liberty is Bartholdi's best known work, his monumental sculpture, the Lion of Belfort (1880, Belfort), is considered by many to be his masterpiece. This is a massive image of a lion sculpted into the side of the red sandstone hill that towers over the city. It was created to commemorate the brave French Legion who survived a siege of Prussians at the end of the Franco-Prussian War (Bartholdi was an officer himself during the war). A plaster version of the monument was exhibited two years earlier at the Salon.

Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to evaluate nineteenth century sculptors like Bartholdi, see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture. For earlier works, please see: How to Appreciate Sculpture.

Sculptures in Colmar

Bartholdi's hometown of Colmar has a Museum dedicated to his works and includes the following important statues and fountains:

- Monument du General Rapp (1856): Bartholdi's earliest important work
- Fontaine de l'Amiral Bruat (1864)
- Fontaine Roeselmann (1888)
- Monument Hirn (1894)
- Fontaine Schwendi (1898)
- Les Grands Soutiens du Monde (1902, courtyard of the Museum)
- Fontaine Schongauer (1863, in front of the Unterlinden Museum in the city).

Other Sculptural Works

Bartholdi created monumental sculptures that were often donated as state gifts. Some examples of these sorts of work include:

- Equestrian statue of Vercingetorix (Clermont-Ferrand, France)
- Switzerland Succouring Strasbourg, (Basel, Switzerland)
- The Bartholdi Fountain in Bartholdi Park (Botanic Garden, Washington DC)
- Statue of Marquis de Lafayette (Union Square, New York)
- The Four Angelic Trumpeters (First Baptist Church Tower, Boston, Mass)
- Fontaine Bartholdi (Place des Terreaux, Lyon, France)


Bartholdi created very few small scale works, which is why The Good Samaritan (1853, Musee d'Orsay) is so rare. Created at the age of 19, it was the first work he ever exhibited at the Salon (in 1853). This little bronze statuette illustrates a story of the Good Samaritan from the New Testament of the Bible. In it, a traveller is beaten and robbed by bandits and only a Samaritan stops to help. The composition of the work owes much to painting, and shows the influence of his early tutor Ary Scheffer. The small group also has an Orientalist flavour, demonstrating Bartholdi's interest in Egyptian art. In fact he did create some paintings on Egyptian subjects, working under the pseudonym Amilcar Hasenfratz to avoid distraction from his sculptural works.

Philadelphia Centennial

In addition, in 1876, Bartholdi was chosen to exhibit at the Philadelphia centennial exhibition in America, and won a bronze medal for his small bronze statues entitled The Young Vine-Grower; Genie Funebre; Peace; and Genius in the Grasp of Misery.

Auguste Bartholdi died in Paris in 1904 of TB, leaving the world with some of its most iconic sculptures.


• For the history and types of sculpture, see: Homepage.
• For the evolution and development of the visual arts, see: History of Art.

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