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Landmark Saint Gaudens Statues See the Light of Day
Two bronzes, titled “Law Supported by Power and Love” and “Labor Supported by Science and Art,” by the distinguished American sculptor, Augustus Saint Gaudens (1848-1907), have recently been installed in the covered east courtyard loggia (or open gallery) of the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery of Art (Jefferson and 12th streets S.W.)
Known as the Boston Public Library groups, the bronzes were purchased in 1915 by the gallery’s founder, Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919). Freer intended the statues to be permanently exhibited at the gallery, but they spent most of the 20th century in storage.
“These bronzes are major accomplishments by one of the most famous and influential sculptors in the history of American art” says the Freer’s assistant curator of American art, Kenneth Myers. “They will now take their deserved place in the catalog of Saint Gaudens statues that are freely available for study by scholars and the museum-going public.”
Best-known for his Robert Gould Shaw Memorial on Boston Common, as well as his bronzes of William Tecumseh Sherman and Peter Cooper in New York and the Adams Memorial in Washington, D.C., Saint Gaudens was America’s most successful sculptor when his friend, the eminent architect Charles McKim, was commissioned by the city of Boston to design a palatial new library in Copley Square. Saint Gaudens advised McKim on the interior decoration of this lavish renaissance building, influencing him to commission works by such outstanding American artists as John Singer Sargent and Daniel Chester French.
Saint Gaudens himself was asked to create two groupings of allegorical figures to grace the pedestals at the main entrance to the library. More accustomed to designing monuments based on real characters, the sculptor found this task to be especially challenging, and took more than 14 years to come up with executable models. During this period, the city of Boston lost patience with Saint Gaudens, eventually canceling the commission. They may have been disturbed by the scantily draped figures in the final renderings, which were considered indecent by the Boston community of the time.
Saint Gaudens died in 1907 before his plaster models had been completed, but his widow, Augusta, had them cast in bronze. In 1914, Charles Lang Freer who had previously commissioned Saint Gaudens to create a stele of a woman that had never been executed, was advised by Charles Platt, the American painter/landscape designer and architect of the Freer Gallery, to buy the groupings. Freer acquired two stellar examples of the later work of this important American sculptor; pieces described by Platt as having “the best of Saint Gaudens in them.”
Cleaned down to the patinized finish, their eye-level presentation allows the discriminating observer to examine the work of this master at unusually close hand. The sculptures were also waxed before the installation on one of the Freer’s beautiful outdoor loggias and can now be seen in a context more appropriate to their original purpose.
Roughly half-sized (approximately 2.7 x 4.8 x 1.5 feet) the two groupings are composed of seven draped figures. In “Law Supported by Power and Love,” a male figure representing law is surrounded on one side by a sword-bearing female, and on the other by two nestling figures of a mother and a child. The other grouping, “Labor Supported by Science and Art,” is composed of a central male, holding a sledge hammer, surrounded on one side by a female holding a globe and on the other by a female holding a lyre. The figures are separated spatially and have informal postures.
The Freer’s loggias, overlooking its beautiful courtyard, opened to the public for the first time on June 11. Four newly installed furniture groupings, each composed of two chairs and a settee, enable visitors to enjoy views of the courtyard plantings.
“The courtyard is often cited as one of the loveliest spaces in Washington,” says Milo Beach, director of the Freer and the neighboring Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. “However, although Freer intended that it be open to all visitors, it has never before been accessible because of environmental concerns.” This project, including the installation of the statues, was made possible by a generous grant from the Philip L. Graham Fund.
The Freer Gallery of Art (12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W.) and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) together form the national museum of Asian art for the United States. The Freer also houses a major collection of late 19th and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Christmas Day, Dec. 25, and admission is free. Public tours are offered daily. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call 202.357.2700 or TTY 202.357.1729, or visit the galleries’ Web site at asia.si.edu.