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Portrait of French

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DANIEL CHESTER FRENCH
(1850-1931)


By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.
Singing these words from Ralph Waldo Emerson's CONCORD HYMN on July 4, 1837. the Massachusetts townsfolk dedicated the obelisk commemorating the Battles of Lexington & Concord at the Old North Bridge. Thirty-eight years later on the centenary of the battle, a new and even more dramatic monument would be erected on the opposite side of the bridge. The riveting bronze statue of a young ploughman, eyes ablaze, musket in hand, THE MINUTE MAN, had been commissioned by Emerson from a young New England sculptor, Daniel Chester French.

French, who had been born in Exeter, NH, and who had studied in Boston with William Hunt, had come highly recommended to Emerson from the Transcendentalist community. Indeed, it was Louisa May Alcott who had first encouraged French's vocation as a sculptor, and it was with Samuel Ward, one of Emerson's close friends, that French continued his training in Brooklyn. The instant popularity of his Concord monument afforded French the opportunity to study in Italy in 1876 before opening his first studio in Washington, DC, where his father was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. After a decade of adorning customs house and post offices, French traveled to Paris, made the friendship of Saint Gaudens, and executed the arresting statue of GENERAL LEWIS CASS for the Capitol in Washington.

Monuments & Portraits

From this point on he built his career as the preeminent monumental sculptor in America. Infusing the neo-classical tradition of statuary with a penetrating new realism and lively animation, he created dramatic compositions in marble and bronze such as ALMA MATER at Columbia University, THE ANGEL OF DEATH STAYING THE HAND OF THE SCULPTOR, ANDROMEDA, and THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL. In addition to these large scale works French proved himself to be adept at smaller sculptures, among them his 1879 portrait head of Emerson, who exclaimed upon seeing it: "Yes, that is the face I have!"

A long time resident of the Berkshires where he had established a summer home at Stockbridge in 1896, French is buried in Concord not far from Authors' Ridge where Emerson and the Alcotts lie.


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