Augustus Saint-Gaudens


Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s gilded bronze equestrian statue of General William Tecumseh Sherman, at the southeast corner of Central Park, across from the Plaza, is my favorite public art work in New York. I always pause, when I have time, to contemplate the grizzled warrior and the Angel of Victory who strides ahead of him, arm raised in joyous salutation, and “seems to be leading the horse into Bergdorf’s,” as Frank O’Hara observed in a poem. There is so often a pigeon atop the General that it might as well be gilded, too. Old-fashioned monumental statuary attracts jokes and pigeons, of course. For generations now, we have lacked the mental means for taking it seriously, even when we notice it. But this work moves me. It is fantastically adept, for one thing. Willem de Kooning once remarked of Saint-Gaudens, “He got the guy to sit right on the horse! You know how hard that is?” The bluff oneness of rider and steed is indeed striking. And Sherman’s ravaged, ornery visage convinces utterly, crowning Saint-Gaudens’s signature feat of investing idealist art with realist grit. Modelling the head, in 1888, took eighteen two-hour sessions, during which the artist asked Sherman to button his collar and straighten his tie. The dishevelled sitter demurred: “The General of the Army of the United States will wear his coat any damn way he pleases.”

more from Peter Schjeldahl at The New Yorker here.