American sculptor Daniel Chester French was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, on April 20, 1850.
Reared in Cambridge and Concord, Massachusetts, he was embraced by members of the Transcendentalist community including Ralph Waldo Emerson. Author and fellow Concord resident Louisa May Alcott encouraged French to pursue a career as an artist. Louisa’s artist sister, May Alcott, was his early teacher.
French received his first big commission for the statue The Minute Man, which he completed in 1875. Located near the North Bridge in the Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord, this work commemorates events at the bridge, the site of “the shot heard ’round the world.” An American icon, images derivative of the Minute Man statue appeared on defense bonds, stamps, and posters during World War II.
With the success of the Minute Man came opportunities to study abroad. After a year in Italy, French opened a studio in Washington, D.C., on the site of the Library of Congress. Additional trips to Europe and a friendship with fellow sculptor Augustus Saint Gaudens resulted in more ambitious work beginning with the impressive General Lewis Cass, the sole work in the National Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol, which he completed in 1888.
By the turn of the century, French was America’s preeminent monumental sculptor. He is best known for his colossal seated figure of Abraham Lincoln, which presides over the Lincoln Memorial. The Angel of Death Staying the Hand of the Sculptor, created for Boston’s Forest Hills Cemetery; John Harvard, located at Harvard University; a bust of Ulysses S. Grant, and a standing Abraham Lincoln at the west entrance to the Nebraska State Capitol are a few of the monuments that French produced during a long and productive career.
French and his wife bought a farm in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, for his studio and their summer home. He also designed and built a large residence there, which he named “Chesterwood.” The property included gardens which he also designed; the estate External was bequeathed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1969. Daniel Chester French died on October 7, 1931.
- Search across the American Memory collections of photographs and prints on Daniel French to find more images of his work. See, for example, the sculpture History, that French created for the Library of Congress’ Jefferson Building.
- Search on Daniel Chester French in Touring Turn-of-the Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920, American Landscape and Architectural Design, 1850-1920: a Study Collection from the Harvard Graduate School of Design External
- A search on Daniel Chester French in Built in America: Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record, 1993-Present, also yields photographs of French’s statuary. The collection also includes photographs as well as drawings of Lincoln Memorial, West Potomac Park, Washington, District of Columbia.
- Search on Daniel Chester French in the pictorial collections for more images of Chesterwood.
- Read more about American artists. Search Today in History on artist for features on painters John Trumbull and Thomas Moran as well as sculptor Alexander Calder.
- Search Today in History on transcendentalist to find features about Daniel C. French’s Concord neighbors Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and the Alcott family.
- Since 1864, individual states have contributed to National Statuary Hall at The United State Capitol. View photographs of this collection of ninety-six statues online at the United States Capitol Web site.