Augustus Saint Gaudens | Learning Center | Gainesville Coins

Augustus Saint Gaudens

By Gainesville Coins
Published June 03, 2015

Augustus Saint-Gaudens (Dublin, March 1, 1848 - Cornish, New Hampshire, August 3, 1907), was the Irish-born American sculptor of the Beaux-Arts generation who most embodied the ideals of the "American Renaissance." Raised in New York City, he traveled to Europe for further training and artistic study, and then returned to major critical success in the design of monuments commemorating heroes of the American Civil War, many of which still stand.

In addition to his famous works such as the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial on Boston Common and the outstanding grand equestrian monuments to Civil War generals John A. Logan, atop a tumulus in Chicago, 1894-97, and William Tecumseh Sherman, at the corner of New York's Central Park, 1892-1903, Saint-Gaudens also maintained an interest in numismatics and designed the twenty-dollar " double eagle " gold piece, for the US Mint in 1905 - 1907, still considered the most beautiful American coin ever issued. In his later years he founded the "Cornish Colony," an artistic colony that included notable painters, sculptors, writers, and architects.

Early Life And Career

Raised in New York, after his parents immigrated to America when he was six months of age, he was apprenticed to a cameo-cutter, but also took art classes at the Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design. At 19, his apprenticeship completed, he traveled to Paris where he studied in the atelier of Francois Jouffroy at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1870, he left Paris for Rome, to study art and architecture, and worked on his first commissions. There he met an American art student, Augusta Homer, whom he married in 1877. In New York he was a member of the Tilers, a group of prominent artists and writers, including Winslow Homer, William Merritt Chase and Arthur Quartley.

Civil War Commemorative Commissions

In 1876 he received his first major commission; a monument to Civil War Admiral David Farragut, in New York's Madison Square; his friend Stanford White designed an architectural setting for it, and when it was unveiled in 1881, its naturalism, its lack of bombast and its siting combined to make it a tremendous success, and Saint-Gaudens' reputation was established.

The commissions followed fast: the colossal Standing Lincoln in Lincoln Park, Chicago in a setting by architect White, 1884 - 87, considered the finest portrait statue in the United States; a long series of funerary monuments and busts: Adams Memorial, the Peter Cooper Monument, and the John A. Logan Monument, the greatest of which is the bronze bas-relief that forms the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial on Boston Common, 1884 - 1897, Saint-Gaudens labored on it for fourteen years, and even after the public version had been unveiled, he continued with further versions. Two grand equestrian monuments to Civil War generals are outstanding: to General John A. Logan, atop a tumulus in Chicago, 1894-97, and to General William Tecumseh Sherman at the corner of Central Park in New York, 1892-1903, the first use of Robert Treat Paine’s pointing device for the accurate mechanical enlargement of sculpture models.

Teacher And Advisor

His prominence brought him students, and he was an able and sensitive teacher. He tutored young artists privately, taught at the Art Students League, and took on a large number of assistants. He was an artistic advisor to the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, an avid supporter of the American Academy in Rome, and part of the MacMillan Commission, which brought into being L'Enfant's long-ignored master-plan for the nation's capital.

Through his career Augustus Saint-Gaudens' made a specialty of intimate private portrait panels in sensitive, very low relief, which owed something to the Florentine Renaissance.


He referred to his early relief portraits as "medallions" and took a great interest in the art of the coin: his twenty-dollar gold piece, the "double eagle" coin he designed for the US Mint, 1905-7, though it was adapted for minting, is still considered the most beautiful American coin ever issued.

Chosen by Theodore Roosevelt to redesign the coinage of the nation at the beginning of the 20th century, Saint-Gaudens produced a beautiful high-relief $20 gold piece that was adapted into a flattened-down version by the United States Mint. The high-relief coin took up to eleven strikes to bring up the details, and only 11,250 of these coins were minted in 1907.

Two major versions of his coins are known as the "Saint Gaudens High Relief Roman Numerals 1907" and the "Saint Gaudens Arabic Numerals 1907-1933." Other extremely rare types of Saint-Gaudens double eagles , minted in 1907, are prized by collectors and valued at over $100,000.

The Saint-Gaudens obverse design was reused in the American Eagle gold bullion coins that were instituted in 1986.

Later Life, Founder Of The Cornish Colony

The Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, Boston Common, commemorates Shaw and the Afro-American 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

Diagnosed with cancer in 1900, he decided to live at his Federal house with barn-studio set in the handsome gardens he had made, where he and his family had been spending summers since 1885, in Cornish, New Hampshire— though not in retirement; despite diminishing energy, he continued to work, producing a steady stream of reliefs and public sculpture. In 1904, he was one of the first seven chosen for membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters. That same year the large studio burned, with the irreplaceable loss of the sculptor's correspondence, his sketch books, and many works in progress.

At Cornish, New Hampshire, Saint-Gaudens and his brother Louis attracted a summer colony of artists. The most famous included painters Maxfield Parrish, and Kenyon Cox, architect and garden designer Charles Platt, and sculptor Paul Manship. The colony of artists made for a dynamic social and creative environment, at the center of which stood Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Many other well known artists followed Saint-Gaudens to Cornish, forming what became known as the "Cornish Colony." Included were painters Maxfield Parrish, Thomas Dewing, George Deforest Brush and Kenyon Cox, dramatist Percy MacKaye, the American novelist Winston Churchill, architect, Charles A. Platt, and sculptors Paul Manship and Louis Saint-Gaudens, Augustus' brother. After his death in 1907 it slowly disspiated. His house and gardens is now preserved as Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site.

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