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Setting the Stage

Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) was one of the most important American sculptors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a period which saw an explosion of civic art and architecture. The years after the Civil War witnessed enormous change as America became more urbanized, industrial, and diverse. Public art, that is works of art designed to be displayed in public places, was seen as a way of expressing the country's emerging wealth and power, commemorating its heroes, and reminding both long-time citizens and newcomers of values and traditions that sometimes seemed in danger of being lost.

Sculptors enjoyed high status during the 50 years between 1875 and 1925. Working in close collaboration with architects and artists, they helped create the "White City" of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago¹ and the "City Beautiful" movement, whose grandiose public buildings and formal boulevards seemed to promise a solution to the problems of industrial urbanization. Their sculptures and memorials, inspired by the monuments of classical Greece and Rome, linked the United States, just beginning to think of itself as a world power, with great nations and civilizations of the past. And their portraits of national heroes helped encourage patriotism and "Americanize" the floods of immigrants that many saw as a threat to American society.

¹ The World's Columbian Exposition or Chicago World's Fair or 1893 was an extravagant fair intended to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus's voyage to America.

 

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