Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a sculptor and painter, was the son of a French shoemaker who lived in Dublin and an Irish woman. He had a brother, Louis Saint-Gaudens (1853–1913), also a sculptor. Augustus Saint-Gaudens married the painter Augusta Homer in 1877.
As a young man Saint-Gaudens was apprenticed to the cameo-cutter Louis Avet from 1861, and from 1864 to Jules LeBrethon. During this time he attended drawing classes at the Cooper Union in New York and then at the National Academy of Design. In 1867 he travelled to Europe, obtaining a job as cameo-cutter and studying at the Petite Ecole and then at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1868, when he enrolled in the studio of François Jouffroy.
Following the outbreak of the Franco–Prussian War, Saint-Gaudens travelled between Rome and New York, carrying out cameo commissions and experimenting with painting. In 1875 he set himself up in a studio in New York, sharing with the artist David Maitland Armstrong. It was at this time that he met the painter John La Farge and the architect Stanford White and began producing decorative work for the Tiffany Studios. From late 1876 to early 1877 he worked with a group of other artists under La Farge on the mural paintings for Trinity Church in Boston. In 1877 he co-founded the Society of American Artists with the writer and editor Richard Watson Gilder and Helena de Kay Gilder. The same year he became a member of the Tile Club, joining artists such as Edwin Austin Abbey, William Gedney Bunce, George Maynard, Francis Davis Millet and the sculptor William O’Donovan, who were all opposed to the conservatism of the National Academy of Design.
Between mid-1877 and 1880 Saint-Gaudens was in Paris and Rome, returning to New York in 1880, producing during this time a number of significant portrait reliefs and public commissions. From 1881 to 1883 he notably designed relief panels and a mantelpiece for the New York residence of the philanthropist and financier Cornelius Vanderbilt, a patron of Whistler's. He taught at the Art Students League from 1888 to 1897 and in 1893 founded the National Sculpture Society.
Both Whistler and Saint-Gaudens contributed to 6th Internationale Kunst-Austellung, Munich, 1892, where Whistler was awarded a first-class gold medal for Arrangement in Black and Brown: The Fur Jacket (YMSM 181). In the same year Saint-Gaudens, along with Stanford White attempted to persuade Whistler to undertake a large panel for the stairs of the new Boston Library. John Singer Sargent and Edwin Austin Abbey had already received commissions. Whistler made notes and suggestions for the mural which he envisaged as a giant peacock design, but unfortunately nothing came of the commission.
At the end of 1897 Saint-Gaudens moved to Paris, and there became good friends with Whistler. In 1898 Whistler persuaded Saint-Gaudens, along with the American sculptors Waldo Storey and Frederick MacMonnies, to join the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers. Saint-Gaudens and Henry Bacon jr were responsible for designing the Whistler Memorial at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, in 1903.
Saint-Gaudens was instrumental in establishing the American Academy in Rome in 1905.
Cortissoz, R., Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Boston and New York, 1907; Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908; Hind, C. Lewis, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, New York, 1908; Saint-Gaudens, H. (ed.), The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, 2 vols, New York, 1913; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980; Dryfhout, J. H., The Work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Hannover and London, 1982; Greenthal, K., Augustus Saint-Gaudens: Master Sculptor, New York, 1985; 'Augustus Saint-Gaudens', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, http://www.groveart.com (accessed 4 July 2002).