Section E Rock Creek Cemetery
I visit the Adams Memorial whenever I am in Washington D.C. This hauntingly beautiful sculpture is one I can never tire of. It is by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
The Smithsonian probably writes about it best:
Marion Hooper “Clover” Adams, wife of the writer Henry Adams, committed suicide in 1885 by drinking chemicals used to develop photographs. Adams, who steadfastly refused to discuss his wife’s death, commissioned Augustus Saint-Gaudens to create a memorial that would express the Buddhist idea of nirvana, a state of being beyond joy and sorrow. In Adams’s circle of artists and writers, the old Christian certainties seemed inadequate after the violence of the Civil War, the industrialization of America, and Darwin’s theories of evolution. Saint-Gaudens’s ambiguous figure reflects the search for new insights into the mysteries of life and death. The shrouded being is neither male nor female, neither triumphant nor downcast.
Saint-Gaudens was born in Dublin to a French father and an Irish mother and raised in New York, after his parents immigrated to America when he was six months of age. He was apprenticed to a cameo-cutter but also took art classes at the Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design.
In 1867, at the age of 19 he traveled to Paris where he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts. In 1870, he left Paris for Rome, to study art and architecture, and work on his first commissions.
He then returned to New York, where he achieved major critical success for his monuments commemorating heroes of the American Civil War, many of which still stand. In addition to his works such as the, Robert Gould Shaw Memorial on Boston Common, and the grand equestrian monuments to Civil War Generals, John A. Logan in Chicago’s Grant Park, and William Tecumseh Sherman, at the corner of New York’s Central Park, Saint-Gaudens also designed the $20 “double eagle” gold piece, for the US Mint in 1905–1907, considered one of the most beautiful American coins ever issued, as well as the $10 “Indian Head” gold eagle, both of which were minted from 1907 until 1933.
In his later years he founded the “Cornish Colony”, an artistic colony that included notable painters, sculptors, writers, and architects. The most famous of which included painters Maxfield Parrish and Kenyon Cox, architect and garden designer Charles A. Platt, and sculptor Paul Manship. Also included were painters Thomas Dewing, George de Forest Brush, dramatist Percy MacKaye, the American novelist Winston Churchill, and the sculptor Louis St. Gaudens, Augustus’ brother.