Daniel Chester French (American, 18501931)
Marble; 120 1/2 x 57 1/4 x 28 3/4 in. (306.1 x 145.4 x 73 cm)
Gift of James C. Melvin, 1915 (15.75)
As early as 1897, Daniel Chester French was at work on a commission from James C. Melvin, a Boston businessman, to design a war monument honoring his three brothers who had died in the Civil War. In 1908, the Melvin Memorial was erected in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, Massachusetts, and is considered by many to be French's greatest war monument, if not his finest ideal work. Four years later, Melvin offered to fund a marble replica for the Metropolitan Museum, which was subsequently carved by the Piccirilli Brothers and installed in the Museum in 1915. French merged innovative technique and symbolic content in Mourning Victory, as he called the figure of the angel. She emerges from a cavity of a rectangular marble shaft, flesh from stone, darkness into light. The partial nude strides forward with hair and drapery swirling around her. The tip of a wing is visible near her knee. In one outstretched hand she holds a branch of laurel, while in the other she lifts above her head an American flag, its stars decisively rendered. This charged physical movement maintains a carefully orchestrated emotional balance with the melancholy restraint of the angel's downcast eyes.
The Museum's version relates more closely to French's original model, because in the final design for the Melvin Memorial the figure was reversed. Apparently, the approach to the outdoor monument brought Mourning Victory's upraised arm in front of her face, nearly hiding it from that vantage point.