Lincoln and the Republic in Chicago

A weekend trip to Chicago has allowed me to cross off two of one hundred or so things to see before you die, although for me I imagine there are 100 just in the windy city. Both items were sculptures and both by famed New York sculptors.

The first was Abraham Lincoln by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. While Daniel Chester French was the artist behind the most famous sculpture of Lincoln, I’m not sure I could say the likeness at the Lincoln Memorial is more moving than this one standing in Chicago’s Lincoln Park.

According to a publication from the Centennial of Lincoln’s death in 1809, the sculpture was created in Cornish, New Hampshire, where Saint-Gaudens came to summer in 1885 with his wife Augusta. He was invited there by his friend Charles C. Beaman, who promised him many “Lincoln-shaped men” in the area to use as models. Such a man was found in Langdon Morse, of Windsor, Vermont, who was the same height and build as Lincoln and who modeled for the figure. Architect, Stanford White, of the New York firm of McKim, Mead and White, designed the monument’s base. He added a long, curving exedra bench to encourage visitors to sit and enjoy the statue and setting. This was one of 20 such artistic collaborations between White and Saint-Gaudens who also became close friends. After Saint-Gaudens’ death, his wife authorized an edition of bronze reductions of the complete work. These are found in public institutions around the country.

In Chicago’s Grant Park there’s a seated version of Lincoln using the same Egyptian-revival style chair. There’s something about the standing Lincoln, however. His gaze looks onto the thousands who pass through the park each day, perhaps a reminder of the man, but to me more a reminder of where we have been and cause to pause for a moment and ponder where we are going.

The second stop was to a sculpture by Daniel Chester French. It’s a replica actually of the Statue of the Republic which stood in a central location at the World’s Columbia Exhibition in Chicago. The Statue of the Republic is a 24-foot-high gilded bronze sculpture in Jackson Park. It was built in 1918 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1893 City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America held here. The statue was funded by the Benjamin Ferguson Fund, which commissioned Daniel Chester French, the sculptor of the original 65-foot-tall statue that stood on the grounds of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, to sculpt this smaller replica.

Compared to the numbers who pass Saint-Gaudens statue of Lincoln each day, the numbers who pass the Statue of the Republic are few. The sculpture is one of the few indications we have today of the great event that occurred here.

I’ve read estimates indicating that a third of the U.S. Population attended the 1893 World’s Columbia Exhibition.

From City of the Century by Donald Miller:

The rain stopped shortly after dawn, and when President Grover Cleveland, Mayor Harrison, Daniel Burnham, and Bertha Palmer, “the queen of the occasion,” arrived in open carriages just before noon, they were greeted by the cheers of a crowd of 200,000 persons packed together in front of the speakers stand at the Administration Building. The president gave a blessedly short address and then pressed a gilded “electric button,” setting in motion the machinery that powered the exhibition. In one instant the shroud fell from Daniel Chester French’s Statue of the Republic in the Great Basin, fountains sprayed water a hundred feet into the air, flags unfurled from a thousand standards, warships in the harbor fired thunderous salutes, and hundreds of lake craft sounded their steam whistles.

Daniel Burnham was the master planner for the great white city. Perhaps the most telling comment of its artistic impact came from Saint-Gaudens after the death of Burnham’s partner John Wellborn Root before the completion. “I have made him see it and kept him at it and now he dies—damn, damn, damn,” Burnham said. At one point Saint-Gaudens took Burnham by the hands and declared, “look here, old fellow, do you realize that this is the greatest meeting of artists since the Fifteenth Century.”

About Eric Miller

Eric Miller is co-founder and contributor to Urban Art & Antiques. His website is ericmiller.me

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