Abraham Lincoln, Head of State (Seated Lincoln)

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Abraham Lincoln, Head of State (Seated Lincoln)
Cast 1908, installed 1926
Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) and
Stanford White (1853-1906)
Grant Park
Bronze, granite, and marble
35 x 150 x 60 ft. 
Chicago Park District

This sculpture of Lincoln has a different feel from Abraham Lincoln: The Man even though it is by the same sculptor. Located in Grant Park, this monument is officially named Abraham Lincoln: Head of State, but is widely known as the Seated Lincoln. Do you think the artist thought that it was boring to create two sculptures of the same man? He did not. In fact, Saint-Gaudens greatly admired Lincoln and felt honored to make these works.

Saint-Gaudens was an Irish immigrant who grew up in New York and apprenticed as cameo-cutter before becoming one of America’s most famous artists. As a teenager, Saint-Gaudens had seen Lincoln a couple of times. Once in 1861, Saint-Gaudens looked out his window and saw Lincoln on his way to Washington, D.C., to attend his presidential inauguration. Four years later, after Lincoln’s assassination, Saint-Gaudens, then eighteen years old, stood in line to view the martyred president’s body lying on state. The young artist was so deeply moved that he went to the back of the line to look at him again!

In this sculpture, Saint-Gaudens depicted Lincoln looking very stately, sitting on a throne-like chair draped with an American flag. But the president looks lonely, and once again, the artist gave him a very somber expression—as though Lincoln was feeling deeply burdened by the Civil War. This was Saint-Gaudens last work. Soon after he completed this statue, his New Hampshire studio burned down and he died a short time later. 

1. How is this statue different from Saint-Gaudens’s earlier Abraham Lincoln: The Man?

2. Do you have different reactions to the two sculptures? Why?

3. Both sculptures have large semi-circular exedras, or built-in benches, but Lincoln in this statue looks much lonelier than in Abraham Lincoln: The Man. Why do you think there is a difference?

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/Grant%20Park/Abraham%20Lincoln%2C%20Head%20of%20State.pdf

Chicago Park District