American Numismatic Biographies author Pete Smith submitted this
article on Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Thanks!
It should surprise no one that I collect numismatic literature. I also have about four feet of shelf
space devoted to art books. One cross-over item is The Work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens by John
H. Dryhout. My research will start there.
Augustus Saint-Gaudens was born on March 1, 1848, in Dublin, Ireland. His father was Bernard
Paul Ernest Saint-Gaudens who was a French shoemaker. His mother was Mary McGuiness, an
Irish co-worker in the shoe factory. Their last name comes from the town of Saint-Gaudens in
southern France (next to Aspet) and the town was named for a Christian martyr.
The family came to Boston and settled in New York City when Augustus was six months old. In
1861 he was apprenticed to a cameo cutter. He left his apprenticeship in 1864 and began work
with cameo cutter Jules Le Brethon. While working there he took drawing classes at Cooper
Union and evening classes at the National Academy of Design.
In 1867 he went to Paris to attend Ecole gratuite de Desin. Then in 1868 he was at the atelier
(workshop) of Francois Jouffroy of Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He continued to work and study in
France and Italy until 1872 when he returned to New York.
In 1870 he cut a cameo for Elmire (Almira) C. Whittlesey and did a pencil sketch of her nine -
year-old daughter Fanny Smith Whittlesey. Those names would have made no impression a
week ago until I wrote about Sarah Victoria Whittlesey Pratt, Mother of Bela Lyon Pratt. Their
common ancestor goes back about six generations.
His first commissioned monumental sculpture was Hiawatha, sculpted in clay in 1871. It was
intended for exhibition in New York Central Park but never placed there. It passed through
several private collections.
Back in Rome in 1873 he sculpted a number of busts. In December of 1873 he met Augusta
Fisher Homer, a deaf student from Boston. They were engaged on April 15, 1874, and were
married at Roxbury, Massachusetts, on June 4, 1877. Their only son, Homer, was born in Boston
on September 29, 1880. He was memorialized with an 1882 bronze relief.
He produced the model for
Silence in 1874. It was carved in marble and placed at the Masonic
Grand Lodge of New York. It has been moved to the Masonic Soldiers and Sailors Hospital at
Utica, New York.
He returned to New York in 1875 to work for Tiffany Studios. In 1877 he did the model for his
first major public commission, the Farragut Memorial in Madison Square Park in New York. In
1884 he began work on the Abraham Lincoln Monument for Lincoln Park in Chicago.
In 1885, the family began to spend summers at Cornish, New Hampshire, at their house called
Aspet. Studios were built there and an artist colony expanded in the area. It became his year-around home about 1900.
In 1886 he produced a marble head of Diana as a study for an intended larger statue. The model
was Davida Johnson Clark. She is a bit of a mystery.
Albertina Hultgren was born in Sweden and came to America in 1879 at age seventeen to work
as a model. She may have met Saint-Gaudens in 1880. It is believed she became his mistress in
1884. By 1885 she was transformed somehow to Davida Johnson and later Davida Johnson
Davida had an androgenous beauty and may have been named for Michelangelo's David.
Another possibility is the 1878 David by Antonin Mercie.
In June of 1889, Davida gave birth to a son, Louis P. Clark, fathered by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. In 1892, Saint-Gaudens executed a bronze relief study of a child named
was a nickname for his son Louis.
The neo-classical works gave way to the Beaux-Arts style, a period generally between the
American Centennial of 1876 and the First World War. Saint-Gaudens had studied under
Jouffroy in Paris and was one of the early practitioners of the style in America. In his workshops
and as an instructor at the Arts Students League, he influenced a generation of artists including
some like Bela Lyon Pratt who worked in his studio. Oher coin designers who worked under
Saint-Gaudens include John Flanagan, James Earl Fraser and Adolph Weinman.
For the 1889 centennial of the George Washington Inauguration, Saint-Gaudens designed a
medal commissioned by the Committee on Commemoration. His assistant, Philip Martiny
modeled the relief and Saint-Gaudens held the copyright. This was Saint-Gaudens first
commercial medal and was an influence on others in the Beaux-Arts style. The medals were not
struck but rather cast by Gorham Manufacturing Company with 2000 in bronze and 10 in silver.
Saint-Gaudens modelled the obverse for the World's Columbian Exposition Commemorative
Presentation medal for 1893. His reverse design, including a standing eagle, was not used.
One of his best-known works was the 1892 weathervane Diana for the roof of Madison Square
Garden. It went through a few revisions and is known by later reductions and recasts. It is
believed that the model was Davida.
At about the same time he was doing the gilt bronze Sherman Monument in New York's Central
Park. It features William Tecumseh Sherman on horseback. Leading the horse is a Winged
Victory with outstretched arm. It is believed that Davida was the model for that figure. She took
on a life of her own and appeared later on the $20 gold coin. Hettie Anderson was the model for
A devastating 1904 fire at his studio in Cornish, New Hampshire, destroyed finished sculptures
plus archival sketches, drawings and plaster models.
Saint-Gaudens designed the 1905 Theodore Roosevelt Special Inaugural Medal in gold. It was
modelled by Adolph Weinman. The reverse shows a Ptolemaic standing eagle, previously seen
on Saint-Gaudens rejected reverse for the Columbian Exposition Medal.
Roosevelt requested that Saint-Gaudens produce dies for new bronze one cent, $10 and $20 gold
coins. The cent was never issued. The $10 gold eagle has an obverse head of Liberty wearing a
feathered bonnet. The reverse had a Ptolemaic eagle similar to the eagle on the rejected reverse for the Columbian Exposition medal. Saint-Gaudens had used a similar eagle on his Shaw
Memorial and on the gold Roosevelt Inaugural medal. Shaw may be remembered from the 1989
An early design for the $20 gold coin (.900 gold) was a winged Victory similar to the Sherman
Monument. She lost her wings before being struck in ultra-high relief as coins that would not
stack. These were only produced in MCMVII. A lower relief version was used between 1907 and
1933. The coin is thought by many to be the most beautiful American Coin. If you own the 1933
double eagle, you may also consider it the most valuable U. S. Coin. (I have seen a dozen of
Liberty on the double eagle is somewhat similar to Winged Victory on the Sherman Monument.
If Davida was the model for the Sherman Monument, she may have also been the model for the
body on the double eagle. It is now believed the model for the head was Hettie Anderson.
Augustus Saint-Gaudens was diagnosed with cancer in 1900 and his health and productivity
gradually declined. He died on August 3, 1907, and was cremated. His ashes are at the Saint-Gaudens Memorial at Cornish, New Hampshire. His home and studio are now in Saint-Gaudens
National Historic Park maintained by the National Park Service.
In the 1910 Census, Davida J. Clark was living with her 20-year-old son, Louis P. Clark. The
death of Davida Johnson Clark was recorded on September 15, 1910, with her date of birth listed
as December 30, 1861. She is buried at Spring Grove Cemetery in Darian, Connecticut. Also
buried there is her mother, Maria Louisa Johnson. How Albertina Hultgren became the daughter
of Maria Louis Johnson is a mystery I have not solved.
With little actual known biography, her life was fictionalized by Karen Ingalls as Davida: Model
and Mistress of Augustus Saint-Gaudens published in 2016. Ingalls was a great-granddaughter of
The general design from the Saint-Gaudens double eagle was resurrected for the American Gold
Eagle bullion coins introduced in MCMLXXXVI. (That's 1986 for those who don't speak
In 2009 the Mint copied the design for a 24 kt gold coin described as ultra-high relief. The piece
is a tribute to the original Saint-Gaudens design. Perhaps an equally artistic tribute could be
made with chocolate wrapped in gold foil.
Wayne Homren, Editor
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