Abraham Lincoln: The Man (The Standing Lincoln)

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Abraham Lincoln: The Man (The Standing Lincoln)
Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) and Stanford White (1853-1906)
Lincoln Park
Bronze figure on granite exedra
25 x 100 x 50 ft. 
Chicago Park District (gift of Eli Bates)

Did you ever wonder what Abraham Lincoln really looked like? This sculpture provides a very realistic portrayal of him. Abraham Lincoln: The Man is more commonly known as the Standing Lincoln, because President Lincoln is depicted standing thoughtfully in front of an enormous chair, as if about to give a speech. Look at the sculpture’s face and hands. If you think they are extremely life-like, you are right. The sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens (who later created the sculpture Abraham Lincoln: Head of State), used life masks, actual molds of Lincoln’s face and hands, as the basis of this work. The casts (seen here) were made by the Chicago sculptor Leonard Volk, less than a year before Lincoln became president. Many people believe that Saint-Gaudens captured a sense of anguish in the face of the American president who was grappling with a divided nation.

In 1884, when Saint-Gaudens began working on this piece, he wanted to find the perfect model for Lincoln’s tall and lanky body. A friend suggested that there were many “Lincoln-shaped men” in Cornish, New Hampshire. So Saint-Gaudens established a summer home and art studio there, and soon discovered Langdon Morse, a six-foot-four-inch tall farmer to serve as his model. Saint-Gaudens’s larger-than-life sculpture stands at the center of a monumental platform with a built-in bench, known as an exedra, designed by architects McKim, Meade, and White. There are verses from some of Lincoln’s most famous speeches inscribed on the exedra and also cast into the two bronze globes on each side of the steps leading up to the platform. In 1887, Lincoln’s fourteen year old grandson, Abraham Lincoln II (or “Jack”), unveiled the monument in a ceremony attended by many of President Lincoln’s old Chicago friends. The work was soon hailed as “the most important achievement American sculpture has yet produced.” 

1. How important is the setting to this statue? How does the elaborate exedra add to the experience? 

2. Why do you think it was important that Lincoln be portrayed so accurately?

3. Even though many photos, drawings, and even life-masks of Lincoln existed, why do you think Saint-Gaudens preferred sculpting with an actual person posing for him?

Further reading:
Bach, Ira and Mary Lackritz Gray, A Guide to Chicago’s Public Sculpture (University of Chicago Press, 1983).

Duffy, Henry J.  Augustus Saint-Gaudens: American Sculptor of the Gilded Age (Saint Gaudens National Historic Site, 2003).

“Lincoln Bicentennial 1809 – 2009,” Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, http://www.nps.gov/saga/historyculture/upload/Lincoln%20project%20G.pdf.

“Public Art in Chicago” (blog) Chicago-outdooor-sculptures.blogspot.com. Accessed July 25, 2011.

“Web-based Guide to the Chicago Park District’s Fountains, Monuments, and Sculptures, 2010.  http://www.cpdit01.com/resources/planning-and-development.fountains-monuments-and-sculptures/Lincoln%20Park/Abraham%20Lincoln%20The%20Man.pdf. 

Chicago Park District