Artist Name


birth4/20/1850 in Exter, New HampshirePicture of Daniel Chester French
death10/7/1931 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts
parentsHenry Flagg French and Anne Richardson
educationMassachusetts Institute of Technology (1867),
Abigail May Alcott, Concord (1868, 1869),
National Academy of Design, Boston (1871, 1872),
Studio of Thomas Ball, Florence
awards

Daniel French was born in 1850 in Exeter, New Hampshire. His father, Henry Flagg French, native of Chester, New Hampshire, was originally working as a lawyer but soon became a judge and the family moved to Massachusetts. They lived in Cambridge and Amherst before finally settling in Concord in 1867. French always remained fond of his New Hampshire roots and decided to use "Chester" as a middle name for that reason.

French had a very uneven educational career, spending one year at MIT before dropping out to pursue his artistic passions. Back in Concord, the family were neighbors to the famous Alcott family and French received his first serious instruction in sculpture from Abigail May Alcott during the winter of 1868-69. A brief, month-long apprenticeship with John Quincy Adams Ward followed in 1870, supplemented by evening drawing classes at the National Academy of Design. It seems that French was just not cut out for formal education.

French's big break came in 1873 when his hometown of Concord commissioned The Minuteman to commemorate the centennial of the Battle of Concord. French undoubtedly received some preferential treatment due to his friendship with Ralph Waldo Emerson, another family friend and neighbor, but the finished statue certainly rewarded Emerson's trust in French.

Like all American sculptors of note, French departed for Europe to study with his European peers. Unlike most, he chose Italy over France. Between 1874 and 1876 he lived in Florence with sculptor Preston Powers and studied with another Massachusetts expat, Thomas Ball. In 1876 he returned to the United States and opened his own studio.

French soon had studios in Concord, Boston, and Washington, D.C. Over the following decade he earned commissions for sculptures on public buildings in Saint Louis, Philadelphia and Boston. He also worked on many portrait sculptures, including the bust of his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson and the statue of John Harvard at Harvard University. In 1886 he finally decided to spend time in France to study Beaux-Arts sculpture. This brief nine-month period would prove extremely influential on his style.

Upon his return from Paris in July 1887 he frequently used the draped female figure in his work. Some of his most impressive monuments - the Milmore Memorial, the John Boyle O'Reilly Memorial, and the Melvin Memorial - are the result. But French did not just use draped females as symbols of death in funereal sculpture, he also used them to represent life in sculptures like The Spirit of Life.

In 1888 French was married to Mary Adams and in 1889 their only child, Margaret, was born in Concord. Margaret would later leave the French summer residence in Glendale to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and it is open to the public on a seasonal basis.

His best known monument is the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., for which French completed the massive seated Lincoln. The sculpture is composed of twenty blocks of Georgia marble, carved in the Bronx studio of the Piccirilli Brothers, and assembled on site in Washington.

French did not design many medals, but the few he did are true masterpieces: the Catskill Aqueduct Completion Medal (1917), the American Red Cross Medal (1920), and the Art Students League Medal are all highly sought after by collectors.

In addition to being a sculptor, French was also a generous donor of time to many artistic organizations. He served as a trustee of The Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1903 until his death in 1931 and always supported the American Academy in Rome, the Art Students League, the National Arts Commission, and the National Sculpture Society.

Sourced from the listed sources in Resources section.

You can click medals to switch between obverse and reverse sides.

  • Visit of the French and British War Commission1917
    by Daniel Chester French & Evelyn B. Longman
    ANS-34.2
    Silver

    This is the 34th official issue of the American Numismatic Society.

    The obverse bears softly modeled and beautiful head of Victory (r.), wearing helmet decorated with the lilies of France, the oak leaves of Britain and the pine of the United States. Around, TO COMMEMORATE THE VISIT TO NEW YORK - OF THE FRENCH AND BRITISH WAR COMMISSIONS 1917; signed on collar, D C FRENCH.

    The reverse bears allegorical group of three figures. On the right, standing figure of female Liberty holding sword, greeting figures of Joan of Arc and medieval knight representing France and England. Signed at lower right, E.B.LONGMAN / SC. 1917.

    The medal is numbered and edge-marked MEDALLIC ART CO. N Y.

    The United States officially entered World War I in 1917 and quickly tried to coordinate the war effort with the the European allies. The French and British delegations were first to arrive and were given a spectacular reception. New York mayor John Purroy Mitchel had put together a Committee of Reception that was in charge of organizing the event. As part of the activities, the committee and the American Numismatic Association (ANS) teamed up to issue this commemorative medal. They engaged Daniel Chester French and Evelyn Longman to design the two sides of the medal. Evelyn Longman was one of French's students and the first woman sculptor to be elected a full member of the National Academy of Design in 1919.

    Barbara Baxter considers this medal one of French's "most outstanding pieces," the other one being his American Red Cross medal.

    The medal measures 63.4mm (2.5in) and was struck in bronze, silver and gold by the Medallic Art Company of New York. The mintage is 5 in gold, 109 in silver and 171 in bronze.

    References: Baxter 317, Marqusee 180

  • Catskill Aqueduct Completion1917
    by Daniel Chester French, Augustus Lukeman
    ANS-35.1
    Bronze
    ANS-35.2
    Silver
    ANS-35.3
    Bronze (struck 38mm)
    ANS-35.4
    Gold-plated bronze (struck 38mm)

    This is the 35th official issue of the American Numismatic Society.

    The obverse bears a female head (alternatively representing Greater New York or Columbia) crowned with laurel in high relief, facing right.

    The reverse depicts a full figure of nude male facing left, standing erect, pouring water from classic vase resting on his shoulder. On Left and right, TO COMMEMORATE - THE COMPLETION / OF THE CATSKILL - AQUEDUCT / AN ACHIEVEMENT - OF CIVIC SPIRIT / SCIENTIFIC GENIUS - AND FAITHFUL LABOR / 1905 NEW - YORK 1917

    This medal was authorized by the Medal subcommittee of the Mayor's Catskill Aqueduct Celebration Committee and issued by the American Numismatic Society (ANS).

    Daniel Chester French won this commission through his acquaintance with Robert de Forest, with whom he served on the board of trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and who also was the president of the Mayor's Catskill Aqueduct Celebration Committee. The committee was convened to organize the celebrations in honor of the completion of the massive Catskill Aqueduct project. Construction had started twelve years earlier in 1905. By 1917 a 163-mile long system of tunnels and pipes had been completed to transport water from the Catskill Mountains to New York City.

    Although the medal is commonly credited to Daniel Chester French, the obverse was actually designed by both French and Augustus Lukeman.

    In 1933, Clyde Curlee Trees, the President of Medallic Art Company chose French's beautiful female head as the symbol of his company and obviously gained permission to use the design in many different ways. The head became not only the company logo but also appeared on bronze replica medals that were struck in an unknown quantity. As late as 1979 the Medallic Art Company issued gold-plated struck bronzes in the small diameter.

    The original medals measured 76mm in diameter and were cast by the Medallic Art Company in a quantity of 57 bronze and 12 silver pieces. Later, an unknown number of the smaller 38mm diameter brones were struck by the Medallic Art Company.

    References: Baxter 245, Marqusee 177

    ANS-35.1
    Bronze
    76mm
    MEDALLIC ART CO. N.Y.
    76
    ANS-35.2
    Silver
    76mm
    15-23
    ANS-35.3
    Bronze
    38mm
    unknown
    ANS-35.4
    Bronze
    38mm
    © 1979 MACO BRONZE - GOLD PLATED
    unknown
  • American Red Cross War Council Medal1921
    by Daniel Chester French
    Bronze

    This medal was the 42nd issue of the American Numismatic Society.

    The obverse bears bust-length profile image of soldier wearing helmet. Signed below bust, DCF.

    The reverse bears image of nurse attending injured soldier depicted within cross. Above, THE AMERICAN RED CROSS; to left and right of vertical bar of cross, TO COMMEMORATE - THE VISION AND / ACHIEVEMENT OF - THE WAR COUNCIL / 1917 - 1919; signed below cross, WHL / DCF.

    The medal is numbered and contains the maker's mark MEDALLIC ART CO. NY.

    This medal was co-issued by the American Red Cross and the American Numismatic Society in 1920. Daniel Chester French designed it and the Medallic Art Company executed it. The initials of Reverend William H. Low in the medal's reverse were included due to his suggestion that the the nurse stand in front of the bed.

    The medal was awarded to twelve New York businessmen who volunteered for the War Council of the American Red Cross. As the Red Cross Bulletin Vol. IV No. 51 (December 13, 1920) states:

    "The General Board also presented to the four members of the Wat Council who were present the special Daniel Chester French medal, authorized at its last meeting in recognition of their war service. These were Eli Wadsworth, Cornelius N. Bliss Jr., George E. Scott and Charles D. Norton. The eight other members of the War Council who will receive their medal are Henry P. Davison, chairman; William Howard Taft, George B. Case, Jesse H. Jones, Edward N. Hurley, John D. Ryan, Grayson M., P. Murphy, and Harvey D. Gibson."

    The medal measures 70mm (2.75in) and was struck by the Medallic Art Company of New York. The reported mintage is 12 pieces in gold, 4 in silver and 205 in bronze.

    References: Baxter 237, Marqusee 176


  • The Minuteman (1875)

    The Minuteman

    In 1872, Daniel Chester French was barely 22 years old and had not yet undertaken any public commissions, the town of Concord started planning its centennial celebrations of the Concord Fight, the first pitched battle of the American Revolution. Ralph Waldo Emerson was in charge of planning and he invited young French to submit proposals to the planning committee. Between French's obvious talent and Emerson's friendship with the family, French was soon awarded the commission. The fact that he did not charge for the project probably also helped.

    The commission was for a generic Minuteman, no particular person. A local historian argues that the statue is based on Captain Isaac Davis of Acton, the first American soldier to be killed in action during the Revolution. A three foot model was accepted in 1873 and the final statue was cast at the Ames Foundry in Chicopee using metal from Confederate cannons employed during the Civil War.

    It was unveiled on April 19, 1875, in the presence of President Grant and Vice-President Wilson, but without French. He had accepted an invitation to study under Boston-born Thomas Ball at his studio in Florence, Italy.

    The original uncropped image can be found on the here.

  • John Harvard (1884)

    John Harvard

    French had to solve several issues in making the Harvard statue. First and foremost, there were no photographs or portraits of John Harvard, hence French had to create a physique of a man which was completely unknown. The little bit of information which was known about John Harvard, "he was reverent, god-like and a lover of learning," certainly gave French wide latitude. For the head, French created a bust of Sherman Hoar of Concord, a descendent of Puritans himself, and used it as a model for Harvard's likeness.

    Secondly, French had to decide what kind of clothing a Puritan minister of the early 17th century might wear. A copy of "Felts Customs of New England" provided French with guidance.

    French worked on the sculpture from 1883-84 and it was dedicated on October 15, 1884. The statue was originally located adjacent to Memorial Hall at Harvard University. In 1920, French expressed discontent with the location of the statue in a letter to Harvard President Lowell. In 1923, the statue was moved in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard where it stands today.

    The beautiful image is owned and copyrighted by UniversityIcons.com. Heartfelt thanks to John Brzezinski for granting me the right to use the image here.

  • Milmore Memorial or The Angel of Death and the Sculptor (1889-1893)

    Milmore Memorial (The Angel of Death and the Sculptor)

    The composition shows a sculptor with chisel raised and ready to strike. The shrouded Angel of Death looks into sculptor's face and gently extends her arm to stay the sculptor's hand as he looks back at her in surprise.

    "The Milmore Memorial," also known as "The Angel of Death and the Sculptor," was a commission from the family of the Boston sculptor Martin Milmore (1844–1883) to honor his memory and that of his brother Joseph (1841–1886). The original bronze statue, cast in Paris in 1892, was erected the following year in Forest Hills Cemetery, in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. When the plaster model was shown at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, it received acclaim that assured French's status at the forefront of his profession.

    The original uncropped image can be found on the here, background information here.

  • Melvin Memorial or Mourning Victory (1906-1908)

    Melvin Memorial (Mourning Victory)

    The partially nude angel emerges from a rectangular cavity, flesh from stone, darkness into light. The tip of a wing is visible near her knee. One hand holds a branch of laurel, the other raises an American flag over her head.

    "The Melvin Memorial," also known as "Mourning Victory," was a commission from James C. Melvin of Concord, Massachusetts. Melvin was an old friend of French and commissioned a work in honor of his three brothers who had died in the Civil War.

    Considered by many to be French's greatest war monument, Mourning Victory exists in two versions. The original monument is located in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord and a very similar but mirror-image replica is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Apparently the Met's version is closer to French's original model than the original sculpture.

    The original unprocessed image can be found on the here and was taken by Steve Scoper.

  • Lincoln Memorial (1915-1922)

    Lincoln Memorial

    Daniel Chester French began working on the statue in 1915, four years after the Washington D.C. Commission of Fine Arts had authorized the project. Henry Bacon was chosen to design the memorial and he had chosen French for the statue that was to be the centerpiece of the monument.

    Sculpted by the Piccirilli Brothers, the statue was completed on November 19, 1919. Carved in 28 sections of Georgia marble, the statue was transported to Washington D.C. and in place for the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial on May 20, 1922.

    The original uncropped image can be found on the here.

  • Beneficence (1930)

    Beneficence

    In 1927 the Muncie Chamber of Commerce proposed the building of a memorial to express gratitude on behalf of Muncie and Ball State University for the Ball Brothers' extensive generosity to the community. The monetary value of the Balls' philanthropies in Muncie totaled $7 million by the time of the monument's completion in 1937.

    The Chamber commissioned French to design the sculpture. The name Beneficence was chosen for the statue because it aptly described the feelings of the community and the actions of the Ball Brothers. French entrusted architect Richard Henry Dana to choose a location for the statue and to design the surrounding promenade.

    The price tag for Beneficence, completed in 1930, was approximately $50,000. The progress toward installation crawled during the Great Depression, as funds for the project became scarce. More than 11,000 individuals donated money to assist in the completion of the memorial, and Beneficence was dedicated on September 26, 1937. Neither French nor Dana lived to see the monument's dedication.

    The statue, affectionately known as Benny, symbolizes the selflessness of the five brothers in their service to the community. It is so entwined in the University's culture that its image is part of the school seal.

    The beautiful image is owned and copyrighted by UniversityIcons.com. Heartfelt thanks to John Brzezinski for granting me the right to use the image here.



Contact me if you have links that might merit inclusion on this page.

Books & Articles

Research Archives and Websites

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
A great biography with lots of links to his works.
The Robinson Library
A biographic page on French with some images of his works.
Douglas Yeo : Sculpture in Situ
Very nice page on French with some images of his works.
The Minuteman
A wonderfully detailed history of the creation of French's first public commission, by Patrick Brown.
Chesterwood - A National Historic Site
Homepage of the museum at French's summer residence in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Museums