Saturday Art: Lincoln Memorial

We all instantly recognize the Lincoln Memorial next to the tidal basin, a feature of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, on the national Mall.   While Abraham Lincoln is one of our best known U.S. figures, his Memorial is a unique blending of historic setting and architecture, as well as the president’s sculpted figure.

Of all the monuments and memorials found in Washington, D.C., perhaps none is more imposing than the Lincoln Memorial. Located at the western end of the long park known as the national “Mall” and at the end of the “Reflecting Pool,” the Memorial has two primary components – a classical columned structure designed by Henry Bacon and a monumental statue of a seated Lincoln by Daniel Chester French. So important is this memorial in America’s consciousness that it appears on the obverse of the American penny (and, seen faintly on the penny, French’s statue can be found).

The Lincoln Memorial was authorised by the Washington D.C. Commission of Fine Arts on July 17, 1911. The Commission asked Henry Bacon to design the memorial which was to house a statue of Lincoln. French was Bacon’s personal choice for a collaborator for the statue and on June 27, 1913, Bacon’s plans were accepted and work on the Memorial began on February 12, 1914.

Daniel Chester French began work on the design for the statue in 1915, making many bronze and plaster models. French used Lincoln’s life mask as well as casts of Lincoln’s own hands as models and also consulted photographs by the noted photographer Matthew Brady. After various modifications, the final statue stood 19 feet tall, not including the pedestal. Sculpted by the Piccirilli Brothers (French’s long time sculpting collaborators), 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.

Concerns about the lighting of the statue persisted for several years; the original lighting cast Lincoln’s face in a ghostly darkness. New lighting was installed in 1926 which to this day shows French’s statue of Lincoln in a dramatic fashion at all times of the day and night

The enormity of the statue can only be appreciated when seeing it up close; several photos below showing young children at the base of the pedestal provide some perspective. French’s “Lincoln” is certainly his most well known statue and in its setting in the Lincoln Memorial, by far his most widely beloved.

The monumental qualities that make this artwork outstanding in our national consciousness are many.   The stature of the man, the quality of its setting, the perfection of the monument and striking image of the statue combine to make it part of our national consciousness.

Photo by Dyanna Hyde, used under Creative Commons license

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