Saint-Gaudens’s three years of study in Paris came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. He left for Rome in late 1870 and soon began “Hiawatha,” his first full-length statue, inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem “The Song of Hiawatha” (1855). Seated on a rock in a contemplative pose, with his quiver of arrows and bow nearby, the Chippewa chief is “pondering, musing in the forest /On the welfare of his people,” as an excerpt from Longfellow’s poem inscribed on the base declares. Saint-Gaudens worked only briefly in such a romanticized Neoclassical manner before progressing to the fluid Beaux-Arts style of his innovative bronze monuments and low-relief portraits.
Signature: [on base]: AUG ST GAUDENS / ROMA FECIT 1872
Inscription: [on front of pedestal base]: HIAWATHA / PONDERING MUSING IN THE FOREST / ON THE WELFARE OF HIS PEOPLE / ON THE SMOOTH BARK OF A BIRCH TREE / PAINTED MANY SHAPES AND FIGURES / LONGFELLOW
Hon. Edwin D. Morgan, New York, 1874–1883; Estate of Edwin D. Morgan, 1883–1886; [Ortgies & Co., New York, January 13–14, 1886, no. 130]; Henry Hilton, Woodlawn park, Saratoga Springs, N.Y., 1886–after 1916; [Concord Art Galleries, New York, January 8–10, 1940]; Private collection, Palm Beach, Fla.; by descent in family to Farwell W. Perry, Greenwich, Conn.; [Christie’s December 5, 1986, no. 30]; private collection, 1986–1988; on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987; Joyce Wolf, Diane, Daniel, and Mathew Wolf, on loan to Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988–2001