Sculptor, Daniel Chester French

19th Century photograph of a young man with dark hair and broad moustache
Daniel Chester French, 1874
Born April 20, 1850 in Exeter NH to Henry and Anne (Richardson) French. At age 17 Daniel and his family moved to Concord MA and lived near Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Alcott family. May Alcott was later one of Daniel’s art teachers. He also studied anatomy in Boston with William Rimmer and drawing with William Morris Hunt.

In 1871 a commission was formed in Concord for the upcoming Centennial celebration of the battles of April 19, 1775. It was decided that another monument was needed at the North Bridge, this time on the side of the river where the colonists fought.

The unveiling of the statue lead to much critical success. However Dan was not in attendance as he had traveled to Europe many months earlier to study under the renowned master sculptor Thomas Ball for the next several years.

Of the statue, French himself would later say: "Perhaps as important a moment in my life was when the good people of Concord, Massachusetts, rashly voted to trust to an inexperienced sculptor a statue of a Minute Man to commemorate the opposition that the British regulars experienced at Concord Bridge. This action resulted in a statue that I think I can say without blushing is better than the citizens had a right to expect."

As well as doing extensive traveling abroad, French established studios in Washington D.C., then Boston and finally in New York City. In 1897 he purchased the estate that would become Chesterwood a summer home and studio in Stockbridge Mass. French would be one of the more prolific artists of his time, with works of public art in Boston, Cambridge Mass, New York City, Chicago and Washington D.C. He is best known for the Seated Lincoln inside the Lincoln Memorial on the Washington D.C. Mall.

French died in 1931 at age 81 in Stockbridge, and is buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord Mass.

Further Reading:
Michael Richman, Daniel Chester French: An American Sculptor
(The Preservation Press, Washington DC, 1976)
Mrs. Daniel Chester French, Memories of a Sculptor’s Wife
(The Riverside Press, Cambridge Mass, 1928)
Margaret French Cresson, Journey into Fame: The Life of Daniel Chester French
(Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass, 1947)

Last updated: January 11, 2020

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