Imagine this diminutive sculpture of Diana the Huntress as a rotating, 18-foot-tall, gilded weathervane atop the tower of the newly built Madison Square Garden. In collaboration with his friend, architect Stanford White (the Garden's architect), Saint-Gaudens originally designed the monumental Diana to reign over the New York skyline, a rival to Bartholdi's Liberty in New York Harbor. But Saint-Gaudens' figure proved too unwieldy to function properly (the original had metal drapery attached as a rudder) and was removed. He then designed a 13-foot version, which also failed as a weathervane and had to be bolted fast to the tower.
Saint-Gaudens went on to make Diana of the Tower in several versions and sizes. The National Gallery's three-foot bronze is a simplification of the original: he removed the flowing drapery and placed the huntress on a raised triangular base decorated with winged griffins.
With her slender limbs and graceful pose, Saint-Gaudens' Diana embodies an idealized feminine beauty. Her facial features, based on those of the sculptor's beloved model, Davida Clark, have taken on a classical perfection. Though engaged in vigorous physical pursuit, she remains elegantly composed, standing on tiptoe atop a globe, one leg extended gracefully behind her. Saint-Gaudens achieved a compositional balance, using the strong horizontals of her extended arm, raised elbow, and bow and arrow to counterbalance the figure's essential verticality.
Saint-Gaudens would have seen several mythological Dianas in Paris in the 1870s, but an elongated neo-mannerist bronze Diana by Houdon (cast 1741), which had a similar classical coiffure, had the greatest influence on Diana of the Tower. Unlike any of those prototypes, however, Saint-Gaudens' figure was conceived primarily as an eloquent and elegant silhouette, because a weathervane, seen against a bright sky, must be effective as a cutout shape.
More information on this object can be found in the Gallery publication European Sculpture of the Nineteenth Century, which is available as a free PDF https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/european-sculpture-19th-century.pdf
on upper front face of pedestal: .DIANA. / OF THE. / TOWER.; on top of base, near back: AVGVTVS / SAINT-GAVDENS / MDCCCXCIX; to right of signature and date, stamped within a circle: .COPYRIGHT. / .BY. AVGVSTVS. / SAINT-GAVDENS / .M. / .DCCCXC. / .IX.; foundry mark on top of base near back, in circle: E.GRUET / JEUNE / FONDEUR / 44BIS AVENUE DE CHATILLON.PARIS.
Marks and Labels
FM: E. Gruet Jeune
(Doll & Richards [the sculptor's agents], Boston, Massachusetts, 1899); presented to the Honorable Jules Cambon, French Ambassador to the United States [tour of duty 1897-1902]; by descent in the Cambon family; acquired 1974 by (Michael Hall Fine Arts, New York); purchased 13 March 1975 by NGA.
- Metamorphoses in Nineteenth-Century Sculpture, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1975-1976, no. 41.
- Augustus Saint-Gaudens, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1985-1986, unnumbered catalogue, fig. 140.
- Dryfhout, John. "Diana." In Metamorphoses in Nineteenth Century Sculpture. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1975: 211-212, fig. 41 (detail of head); 216-217, no. 41.
- Dryfhout, John. The Work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Hanover, New Hampshire, and London, 1982: 209-210, pl. 154-9 (full figure, with pedestal).
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 649, no. 1028, repro.
- Greenthal, Kathryn. Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Master Sculptor. Exh. cat. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. New York, 1985: 138-139, fig. 140 (detail of head); 174.
- Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994: 213, repro.
- Butler, Ruth, and Suzanne Glover Lindsay, with Alison Luchs, Douglas Lewis, Cynthia J. Mills, and Jeffrey Weidman. European Sculpture of the Nineteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2000: 459-464, color repro.