About the Sculptures

A painted reproduction of what the sculptures would look like at the Boston Public Library

In 1892, Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) was commissioned to design a pair of monumental figures to be located in front of the new Boston Public Library. The project was to be immensely grand physically and artistically, and Saint-Gaudens intended for these to be his masterpieces. He had decided on what the allegorical figures were going to be in 1894 in which Labor would be surrounded by Science and Art and Law would be accompanied by Power and Love. Each figure holds an appropriate attribute. On one sculpture: Labor is in the middle holding a hammer, Science on the left holding an orb and Art to the right holding a lyre and on the other, Law is in the middle holding a pole, Power is to the left holding a sword, and Love is a woman with a child coddled next to her and a hooded fabric over them both. Each middle figure is a male who is being supported by all female figures.

 

Augusta Homer circa 1874
Saint-Gaudens’s home “Aspet” in Cornish, New Hampshire
The exterior of Saint Gaudens’s art studio, The Little Studio, and garden in Cornish, New Hampshire
Atrium of Gallery at Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, New Hampshire

Saint-Gaudens found that completing these sculptures was unusually difficult to execute for several reasons. It is possible that he understood these groups to be exceptionally abstract in contrast with the realistic sculptures he is most famous for. He also had anxiety about the sculptures being placed in Boston which he regarded as a city full of hyper-criticality. He spent fourteen years working intermittently on the sculptures and ultimately left them unfinished when he died of cancer in 1907. Following Saint-Gaudens’s death, the Boston Public Library decided to discontinue the commission and at this time his widow copyrighted the groups and were kept in their Cornish estate. Seven years later, Charles A. Platt saw the figures and recommended them to Charles Lang Freer who, on October 14, 1914, signed a contract with Augusta Saint-Gaudens for the sculptures and the copyright. Proceeding the offer agreement, Augusta decided that she wanted to get a duplicate of the pair of sculptures for a possible Augustus Saint-Gaudens museum. Freer declined simply because he did not want any duplicates of works in his museum and even threatened to withdraw the purchase if she persisted. Mrs. Saint-Gaudens complied with Freer’s request, making it so that Freer has the only copy of the pair which sit in the Freer courtyard, and the original plaster casts of the sculptures are at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, New Hampshire.