Daniel Chester French
Biography of American Sculptor Best-Known for Lincoln Memorial.

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Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln Memorial
(1920) Washington DC

Daniel Chester French (1850-1931)

One the most famous American sculptors of public monuments of his time, the artist Daniel Chester French is best known for his seated marble statue of Abraham Lincoln (1920) at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. In addition, he created a standing figure of the President (1912) for the town of Lincoln in Nebraska.

Hugely prolific during his lifetime, French created many large scale memorial sculptures, and numerous examples of portrait busts and relief sculpture. One of the most popular 19th century sculptors, French's home and studio in Stockbridge, Massachusetts is now a museum and showcase of his plastic art.

SCULPTURE (c.1750-1900)
Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844)
Auguste Preault (1809-79)
Alfred Stevens (1817-75)
George Frederick Watts (1817-1904)

Pierre-Louis Rouillard (1820-81)
Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-75)
Frederic Leighton (1830-96)
Jean Falguiere (1831-1900)
Auguste Bartholdi 1834-1904
Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973)

BEST WORKS OF SCULPTURE
For the world's top works,
see: Greatest Sculptures Ever.

EVOLUTION OF SCULPTURE
See: History of Sculpture.

MEDIUMS
Marble Sculpture
Pentelic, Carrara, Parian marbles.

BEST ARTISTS
For a list of the world's most
talented 3-D artists, see:
Greatest Sculptors.

Early Career

Born in Exeter, New Hampshire, Daniel French's family were both wealthy and well-connected. His father, Henry Flagg French was a lawyer, author and Assistant US Treasury Secretary. The young French was introduced to a neighbour Louisa May Alcott (author of Little Women) at an early age, and she encouraged him to pursue a career as an artist. He proceeded to study the art of sculpture at Boston and New York before receiving his first commission in 1875 - a statue of The Minute Man. The statue stands on the green in Concord City, and commemorates the battle of Lexington and Concord during the Civil War. A famous symbol of America, images of The Minute Man appeared on stamps, defence bonds and posters during World War II. Very soon after this, he travelled to Europe where he studied classical Greek sculpture, as well as Italian Renaissance sculpture and 19th century masters. He also spent a year in Italy working and studying with the sculptor Thomas Ball.

 

Early Sculptures

Returning to Washington DC, he opened his own studio, where he completed a number of memorial works, including:

- John Harvard Monument (1884, Harvard Yard, Cambridge, Massachusetts)
- Marble statue of General Lewis Cass (1888, National Statuary Hall)
- Thomas Gallaudet Memorial, bronze group (1889, Gallaudet College)
- Vice-President John Adams, marble bust (1890, Senate Chamber, US Capitol)
- Thomas Starr King Monument (1891, San Francisco, California)
- The Republic, the centrepiece of the Columbian Exhibition (1893, Chicago)
- The Republic (1895, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California)
- John Boyle O'Reilly Memorial (1897, Boston, Massachusetts)
- Rufus Choate Memorial (1898, Old Suffolk County Court House, Boston)
- Memorial for architect Richard Morris Hunt (1900, Central Park, New York).

 

By the start of the 20th century, Daniel French had become America's leading monumental sculptor. (See also James Earle Fraser 1876-1953.) As a mark of his standing, in 1917 he was commissioned to design the Pulitzer Prize gold medal presented to laureates.

Statue of Lincoln Memorial

In 1920, French's iconic sculpture of a seated President Lincoln was unveiled to much acclaim at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC. One of the most famous modern sculptures in the West, French created it in collaboration with Edward Clark Potter, Henry Bacon and the mural painter Jules Guerin. The building is modelled on antique Greek Doric temples and contains the seated figure of Abraham Lincoln, along with the inscriptions of two of his famous speeches. The building surrounding the sculpture is made from limestone and marble, while the sculpture itself was carved from 28 blocks of Georgian marble. Daniel French, who was responsible for the statue of Lincoln, had studied photographs of the President which had been taken by Mathew Brady. The statue itself is 19 feet tall and 19 feet wide. Lincoln's inaugural and Gettysburg addresses are inscribed on the walls which flank him. Above these texts are murals by the artist Jules Guerin.

Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to evaluate modernist sculptors like Daniel Chester French, see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture. For earlier works, please see: How to Appreciate Sculpture.

Achievements

Daniel French became a founding member of the American National Sculpture Society in 1893 and around the same time became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1901 he was invited to become a member of several artistic institutes including the National Academy of Design, the Architectural League, the Accademia di San Luca (Rome) and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1940 French was one of five artists to be depicted on the 35 stamp "Famous American" series. By the time of his death at the age of 81 in 1931, he had become a household name.

Other Works

Other noteworthy examples of Daniel French's bronze sculpture, portrait statues and other stone sculpture, include:

- Ralph Waldo Emerson, bronze bust (1879, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC)
- Peace and Vigilance, marble group (1882, U.S. Custom House, St Louis)
- John Harvard, bronze statue (1883, Harvard University, Cambridge)
- Science Controlling Electricity and Steam, (1885, Franklin Park, Boston)
- General George Meade, bronze statue (1898, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia)
- Angel of Peace, bronze statue (1898, Forest Hills Cemetery, Boston)
- Bishop Phillips Brooks, marble bust (1898, Trinity Church, Boston)
- Ulysses, equestrian statue (1899, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia)
- General Joseph Hooker, equestrian statue (1903, State House, Boston)
- George Washington, bronze equestrian (1903, Washington Park, Chicago)
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, seated bronze (1911, Houghton Library, Harvard)
- Statue of Lincoln (1912, Nebraska State Capitol)
- General William Franklin Draper (1912, Milford, Massachusetts)
- The Spirit of Life, Memorial to Spencer Trask (1915, Saratoga, NY)
- Brooklyn and Manhattan, seated figures (1915, Brooklyn Museum, NYC)
- The Republic, gilded bronze statue (1918, Graceland Cemetery, Chicago)
- Margaret Stuyvesant Rutherford White (National Cathedral, Washington DC)
- Samuel Francis du Pont Memorial Fountain (1921, Washington, DC)
- Russell Alger Memorial Fountain (1921, Grand Circus Park, Detroit)
- The Spirit of Giving, Memorial to George Robert White, (1924, Boston)
- James Woods, "Uncle Jimmy" Green (1924, University of Kansas)
- Henry White, marble relief (1928, National Cathedral, Washington DC)
- William Henry Seward Memorial (1930, Florida, NY)
- Beneficence (1930, Ball State University, Indiana)

• For more about modern American sculpture, see: Homepage.
• For the evolution and development of the visual arts, see: History of Art.


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