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Daniel Chester French, Sculptor

His lively blend of classical and realistic sculpture brought him fame and important commissions, including the huge Seated Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

Melvin Memorial, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord MA
Mourning Victory in French's Melvin Memorial, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord MA.

Born in Exeter NH, Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) moved to Boston to study sculpture with William Hunt, a pursuit encouraged by author Louisa May Alcott. He continued his training with Samuel Ward in Brooklyn, NY.

French's first famous sculpture, The Minute Man, was commissioned by Ralph Waldo Emerson, a friend of Ward's, and unveiled at the Old North Bridge in Concord MA, on April 18, 1875.

The Minute Man statue, North Bridge, Concord MA
The Minute Man, Old North Bridge, Concord MA.

The success of The Minute Man, with its lively blend of classical and realistic sculpture, allowed French to go to Italy for further study the following year.

When he returned, he opened his first studio in Washington DC which, being the nation's capital, had a need for lots of fine statuary. (It didn't hurt that French's father was, at the time, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury.)

French's most famous work is probably the huge, fine Seated Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.

He also made fine small works, such as a bust of Emerson, the statue of John Harvard that stands in Harvard Yard, and the haunting Mourning Victory of the Melvin Memorial in Concord's Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. (A later Mourning Victory stands in the American wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.)

Daniel Chester French's grave is in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord MA, von the ridge behind the Melvin Memorial.

The best place to get a sense of French's creativity is at Chesterwood, his summer estate in Stockbridge MA, in the Berkshire hills.

Novels by Tom Brosnahan
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