In 1892 Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907) received a commission to design a pair of monumental figures for the front entrance of the new Boston Public Library. The artist intended for these immense sculptures to be his masterpieces. By 1894 he had decided on the allegorical figures: Labor flanked by Science and Art, and Law accompanied by Power and Love. Each figure would have an appropriate attribute: Labor holding a hammer, Science with an orb, and Art posing with a lyre; and on the other, Law wielding a staff, Power raising a sword, and Love as a woman with a child.
Completing these sculptures proved to be unusually difficult for Saint-Gaudens. Their abstract nature contrasts with the realistic monumental portraiture that earned him his reputation. A New Yorker, he also worried that his work might not be well received in Boston, which he regarded as an especially critical city. Although he spent fourteen years working intermittently on the sculptures, he ultimately left them unfinished when he died of cancer in 1907. Following his death, the Boston Public Library decided to end the commission. Mrs. Augusta Saint-Gaudens, the artist’s widow, copyrighted the groups and kept them at her estate in Cornish, New Hampshire.
Seven years later, architect Charles A. Platt saw the figures and recommended them to Charles Lang Freer. On October 14, 1914, Freer signed a contract with Mrs. Saint-Gaudens for the sculptures and their copyright. Mrs. Saint-Gaudens inquired about duplicating the pair of sculptures for a possible museum dedicated to her husband. Freer declined: he did not want reproductions of works in his own museum, and he even threatened to withdraw the purchase offer if she persisted. Mrs. Saint-Gaudens complied with Freer’s demand. The original plaster casts are in the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, New Hampshire, and the sculptures in the Freer courtyard are the only bronze versions.