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Determining the Facts

Reading 4: Henry Adams' Reflection on the
Adams Memorial

Writing in the third person, Henry Adams described his reaction to the statue he had commissioned in 1891 as a memorial to his wife, who had committed suicide:

...His first step, upon returning to Washington, took him out to the cemetery known as Rock Creek, to see the bronze figure which St. Gaudens had made for him in his absence. Naturally every detail interested him, every line, every touch of the artist, every change of light and shade, every point of relation, every possible doubt of St. Gaudensí correctness of taste or feeling; so that, as the Spring approached, he was apt to stop there often to see what the figure had to tell him that was new, but in all that it had to say, he never once thought of questioning what it meant. He supposed its meaning to be the one commonplace about it—the oldest idea to human thought....The interest of the figure was not in its meaning but in the response of the observer. As Adams sat there, numbers of people came, for the figure seemed to have become a tourist fashion, and all wanted to know its meaning. Most took it for a portrait-statue, and the remnant were vacant in the absence of a personal guide. ...The only exceptions were the clergy, who taught a lesson even deeper. One after another brought companions there, and, apparently fascinated by their own reflection, broke out passionately against the expression they felt in the figure of despair, of atheism, of denial. Like the others the priest saw only what he brought. Like all great artists, St. Gaudens held up the mirror and no more.

Questions for Reading 4

1. Who wrote this reflection?

2. As a client, was Adams satisfied with the work of Saint-Gaudens as embodied in the Adams Memorial? How can you tell?

3. What did Adams say about the meaning of the work?

4. What did Adams mean by saying that Saint-Gaudens held up a mirror? Do you agree with Adams that that is the role of "great artists"?

Reading 4 was excerpted from Homer Saint-Gaudens, ed. The Reminiscences of Augustus-Saint Gaudens, vol.1 (New York: The Century Company, 1913).

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