Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American, 1848–1907)
93 x 34 1/2 x 37 1/4 in. (236.2 x 87.6 x 94.6 cm)
Gift of Diane, Daniel, and Mathew Wolf, in memory of Catherine Hoover Voorsanger, 2001 (2001.641)
After three years of academic training in Paris, Saint-Gaudens relocated to Rome in 1870 and soon began modeling Hiawatha in his studio at the Palazzo Barberini. The inspiration for this full-size seated nude was drawn from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poem The Song of Hiawatha (1855), a popular wellspring of themes for American artists during the late nineteenth century. Saint-Gaudens represented the central protagonist, a Chippewa chief, as a contemplative figure seated on a rack, leaning against a tree trunk with his quiver of arrows and bow nearby, and "Pondering, musing in the forest / On the welfare of his people," as the excerpt from Longfellow's poem inscribed on the marble base declares. Saint-Gaudens vowed he would "astonish the world" with his ambitious early piece, and, indeed, he sold the unique marble to Edwin D. Morgan, a former governor of New York. The sculptor worked only briefly in such a romantic but Neoclassical manner before progressing to the fluid Beaux-Arts style of his innovative bronze monuments and bas-reliefs.