Saturday, February 14, 2009

Plaster Working Model of Lincoln Statue

On view February 12, 2009 through February 12, 2010
National Gallery of Art: Main Floor of West Building
Constitution Avenue between 4th & 7th Streets
Mon-Sat 10:00a-5:00p, Sun 11:00a-6:00p.

The 6-foot-high plaster working model (1916) of the celebrated seated Lincoln statue, designed for the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall, is on view in honor of President Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday. Crafted by American sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931), the plaster model, which was used for the carving of the final 19-foot-high figure, is being lent to a museum for the first time by Chesterwood Estate and Museum, French's country home and studio in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. French, who studied many of Mathew Brady's photographs of Lincoln, depicted the president as somewhat worn and pensive. The marble statue was carved by the Piccirilli Brothers of New York City in a studio in the Bronx from 28 blocks of white Georgia marble.

The plaster sculpture is joined by the wood model of the Lincoln Memorial that renowned American architect Henry Bacon (1866-1924) used to bolster his entry in the memorial’s design competition. It is the original scale model of the actual building, which was inspired by the Parthenon in Athens and erected on the National Mall between 1914 and 1922. The works are accompanied by life-size photo banners of the final Lincoln sculpture and a watercolor of the East Elevation of the Lincoln Memorial by Jules Guerin, who executed the murals inside the Memorial.

About the statue: It has long been claimed that Lincoln is shown using sign language to represent his initials, with his closed left hand shaped to form an "A" and his right hand to form an "L". The National Park Service denies both stories, calling them urban legends. However, historian Gerald Prokopowicz writes that, while it is not clear that sculptor Daniel Chester French meant Lincoln's hands to be formed into sign language versions of his initials, it is possible that French did intend it, because he was familiar with American Sign Language, and he would have had a reason to do so – to pay tribute to Lincoln for having signed the federal legislation giving Gallaudet University, a university for the deaf, the authority to grant college degrees. The National Geographic Society's publication, "Pinpointing the Past in Washington, D.C.," states that Daniel Chester French had a son who was deaf and thus had a working knowledge of sign language.

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