Daniel Chester French 1850-1931

Born Exeter, New Hampshire


Daniel Chester French’s career as a sculptor coincided with an unprecedented rise in the construction of public buildings and civic spaces in America. A demand for public art accompanied this boom, and French built a prestigious career fulfilling this need. His popularity stemmed in part from the fact that much of his work was a throwback to a familiar nineteenth-century decorative aesthetic. Yet, French can also be seen as a transitional figure between the beaux arts movement and modern sculpture’s increasing realism. Whereas he preferred idealized allegorical figures early in his career, his later work – most especially his moving statue of Abraham Lincoln for Washington’s Lincoln Memorial – gestures toward an emergent modernism. Taken alone, French’s Lincoln would secure his reputation as a great sculptor, but taken as the capstone of his prolific career, it illuminates French’s larger influence in shaping public space at the dawn of the new century.

Platinum print, 1901
ARTnews Collection