For nearly half a century, from the late 1870s to the late 1920s, Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) was America’s foremost sculptor of public monuments. His outdoor masterpieces can be seen in New York, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, DC, as well as in smaller American towns such as Concord, Massachusetts, Saratoga Springs, New York, and Lincoln, Nebraska. French’s projects adorn civic spaces including New York’s Central Park, Boston’s Public Garden, and Washington’s Dupont Circle; are focal points on college and university campuses at Harvard, Columbia, Bowdoin, and Gallaudet; enhance the facades of the grand Beaux-Arts structures of the United States Custom House, New York, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Boston Public Library; and are focal points in some of this countries landmark garden cemeteries, such as those in Jamaica Plain and Concord, Massachusetts.
Many of French’s public works depict or otherwise commemorate historical figures. These range from his allegorical, life-size bronze The Minute Man that he created in 1875 for the town of Concord, Massachusetts, to grand-manner portraits, such as the colossal marble figure of Abraham Lincoln that he executed in 1922 for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. His fame for these male-oriented masterpieces is well deserved, but in fact French was equally proficient at modeling the female figure, especially in its classicizing, idealized form. This aspect of his career that has been rarely acknowledged and little studied and it is the goal of this exhibition to help fill that gap in French scholarship.
Characteristically, French’s female figures are allegorical. They are often seductively posed and draped in aid of memorializing some great action, event, or emotion, not by means of portraiture but through a sensual, tactile narrative. As an American classicist who trained in Europe, French looked first to the visible world for inspiration; but he always improved on what nature had on offer in order to achieve an ideal beauty in three-dimensional form: this was especially true of his interpretations of the female face and body. In fact, feminine beauty in allegorical form was often at the forefront of French’s work, even the public ones. Daniel Chester French: The Female Form Revealed will explore this aspect of French’s career primarily as seen in a group of preliminary models and studies that he made not only for major public commissions but also for a number of his more intimate and personal works.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website