Dissent Magazine reviews without reviewing Harold Holzer’s book on the Lincoln Monument sculptor, Daniel Chester French. No complaints here – they’ve offered an interesting article.
It was within this neoclassical setting, inspired by the Parthenon, that French had to place his Lincoln. For a brief time, there was talk of installing an enlarged version of Saint-Gaudens’s Standing Lincoln, inside Bacon’s Memorial, and French himself entertained the idea of sculpting a version of the Lincoln he had done for the Nebraska Capitol. But soon it became clear to Bacon and French that only an original statue of Lincoln would be suitable for the Lincoln Memorial rising on the National Mall.
What French arrived at was a concept entirely different from the Lincolns that he and Saint-Gaudens had already done. French’s Lincoln was no longer a politician pondering the future. He was a president sure of the future. “What I wanted to convey was the mental and physical strength of the great war President and his confidence in his ability to carry the thing through to a successful finish,” French would say. His decision to portray a transcendent Lincoln gazing at the capitol at the other end of the mall reflected this view, and so did the scale of his statue, which stood nineteen feet high and weighed over two hundred tons. Had French’s Lincoln risen from his chair, he would have been thirty feet tall.