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Current Exhibition

Daniel Chester French: The Female Form Revealed

October 07, 2016—February 19, 2017

Daniel Chester French, Mourning Victory, Maquette, ca. 1906, plaster, 14 7/8 x 7 ¾ x 2 ¾ inches. Chesterwood, a National Trust Site, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Gift of Daniel Chester French Foundation. Photograph by Paul Rocheleau, courtesy Chesterwood.

Daniel Chester French, Mourning Victory, Maquette, ca. 1906, plaster, 14 7/8 x 7 ¾ x 2 ¾ inches. Chesterwood, a National Trust Site, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Gift of Daniel Chester French Foundation. Photograph by Paul Rocheleau, courtesy Chesterwood.

For nearly half a century, from the late 1870s to the late 1920s, Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) was America’s foremost sculptor of public monuments. His outdoor masterpieces can be seen in the cosmopolitan centers of New York, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, DC, as well as in smaller American towns such as Concord, Massachusetts, Saratoga Springs, New York, and Lincoln, Nebraska. French’s projects adorn civic spaces including New York’s Central Park, Boston’s Public Garden, and Washington’s Dupont Circle; are focal points on college and university campuses at Harvard, Columbia, Bowdoin, and Gallaudet; enhance the facades of grand Beaux-Arts structures such as the United States Custom House in New York, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Boston Public Library; and are focal points in some of this country’s great historic cemeteries such as Woodlawn in New York, Graceland in Chicago, and Forest Hills in Boston.

Many of French’s public works depict or otherwise commemorate historical figures. These range from his herioc allegory, The Minute Man, created in 1875 for the town of Concord, Massachusetts, to grand-manner portraits, such as the colossal figure of Abraham Lincoln, executed in 1922 for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. French’s fame for these male-oriented masterpieces is well deserved, but in fact he was equally proficient at modeling the female figure, especially in its classicizing, idealized form. This aspect of his career has been little studied and it is the goal of this exhibition to help fill that gap in French scholarship.

Characteristically, French’s female figures are allegorical. Often idealized, seductively posed, and classically draped, they typically memorialize great human actions, events, or emotions. They fulfill their purpose not through portraiture but by means of a more sensual, tactile, and cerebral narrative. As an American classicist who trained in Europe, French looked first to the visible world for inspiration; but he always improved on what nature provides in order to achieve an ideal beauty in three-dimensional form. This was especially true of his interpretations of the female face and body. In fact, feminine beauty in allegorical form was often at the forefront of French’s work, even the public ones. Daniel Chester French: The Female Form Revealed explores this aspect of French’s career by focusing on a selection of evocative preliminary models and studies that he made in preparation for some of his great public commissions as well as for a number of his more intimate and personal works. 

Co-curated by David B. Dearinger, Director of Exhibitions & Susan Morse Hilles Senior Curator of Paintings & Sculpture at the Boston Athenæum, and Donna Hassler, Director of Chesterwood and Administrator, Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios Program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, this exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with an essay by Dr. Dearinger and a checklist of the exhibition’s contents. The exhibition will be enhanced with a series of lectures, curator-led gallery talks, and an on-line version of the installation.

Daniel Chester French: The Female Form Revealed is collaboration between Chesterwood National Historic Site, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and the Boston Athenæum.

The exhibition and its published catalogue are made possible by a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.