Kathryn Greenthal's Augustus Saint-Gaudens: Master Sculptor is a critical study of one of the greatest artists this country has produced. The book recounts the sculptor's early days in New York as a cameo cutter's apprentice and his student years in France and Italy and identifies the sources of European influence from which he honed his native talent and earned his place in the international sculptural hierarchy. The author examines Saint-Gaudens's major achievements and reveals the associations, working methods, and fortunes of a man whose career flourished in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the opening years of the twentieth. Saint-Gaudens established himself in New York in the 1880s, after periods of work and study in Paris and Rome. His return to America coincided with the great age of Beaux-Arts architecture, and the sculptor's inspired association with Henry Hobson Richardson, Charles McKim, and Stanford White led to the creation of the works for which he is best known. The copper figure of Diana that Saint-Gaudens made to embellish the original Madison Square Garden is the work most strongly identified with the sculptor today. Saint-Gaudens's monuments to American heroes—to Lincoln in Chicago, to Farragut and Sherman in New York, and to Robert Gould Shaw in Boston—demonstrate the Beaux-Arts concern with decoration, but also display a particularly American mythologizing quality. In a sense, these great men of history live in the public consciousness through the aspect of their characters Saint-Gaudens chose to portray. In another mode, Saint-Gaudens created large-scale works of great intimacy, most notably the Adams Memorial in Washington, D.C., whose solitary figure represents the emotion of grief. Throughout his career, while he was at work on monumental commissions, Saint-Gaudens also produced many relief portraits that show the delicacy of his draughtsmanship. Some of these are like sketches in bronze; others are fully developed portraits. In subject they range from a series of the sculptor's celebrated artist friends to distinguished personages and the children of wealthy patrons.
Finally, late in his life, Saint-Gaudens was asked by Theodore Roosevelt to design coins. The figures of Liberty and the eagles that decorated these ten- and twenty-dollar gold pieces remain emblems of the federal identity—familiar and ideal.
Copiously illustrated with photographs—those by Jerry L. Thompson taken especially for the book—Augustus Saint-Gaudens: Master Sculptor presents in dazzling array accounts of works described by John K. Howat in the book's preface as "possessing such superb qualities of line, form, color, and surface ... that they capture equally our mind and our eye with the illusive impact of great beauty found only in the finest art objects."