Henry Merwin Shrady, born in 1871, was the son of a fashionable New York physician of international prominence (as well as an amateur artist), Dr. George Frederick Shrady (1837-1907), who coincidentally anticipated his son's major commission by serving as consulting surgeon to General Ulysses S. Grant during his final illness, in 1885. Henry Shrady took his A.B. in law from Columbia College in 1894, and was a second-year student in the professional school of law in 1894-1895; an attack of typhoid fever caused him to withdraw before taking his second degree. Instead he served from 1895 to 1900 as an officer of the Continental Match Company, established in 1894 by Edwin Gould (second son of the railway tycoon Jay Gould), whom Shrady's step-sister Sarah Cantine had married in 1892. Shrady's true profession emerged during his three-year convalescence (1895-1898), in which he turned to drawing; he began with sketches of household pets, since he had been attracted to animals from childhood. He had inherited an interest in anatomy from his father, pursued it more formally in biology courses at Columbia, and supplemented those studies by sketching a variety of animals from life at the Bronx Zoo. His father's natural talent for drawing helped to inform Shrady's early efforts; but apart from his undergraduate instruction in anatomy, and the paternal example in sketching and modeling, he was for the most part self-taught.
While still engaged in his brief business career--and newly married, to Harrie E. Moore, in 1896--Shrady began to spend his evenings experimenting with watercolors. His first recorded work was a painting, Fox Terrier Seizing a Mouse, which his wife submitted to an exhibition at the National Academy of Design; to Shrady's surprise it even attracted a buyer. He next attempted a painting from life of a group of kittens, intended as an improvement on a similar picture that the Goulds had bought in Paris; it too was exhibited at the Academy.
Frustrated by the difficulties of mixing and judging colors only in his recreational hours at night, Shrady turned to his father's second avocation of modeling in clay. He chose as his first sculptural subject his own saddle horse, which he rode while in the city in Central Park. Shrady was also able to ride on his family's estate, established before the Revolution, at Elmsford in Westchester County, and at the Gould family's hunting lodge in the Berkshires and their game preserve in North Carolina. Shrady studied equine anatomy with the aid of textbooks, as well as by the less orthodox technique of hosing down his horse before riding, so as to discern more clearly the movements of its muscles. The first result of these researches was a spirited sculptural model of four horses and riders harnessed to a caisson with two drivers, called Artillery Going into Action (1898/1899). Alvan S. Southworth, a retired war correspondent and friend of Shrady's father--who himself had seen field service in the 1898 Spanish-American War--had the group photographed by De Silva & Hill, and the image published in a photo-engraving; that print attracted the notice of Theodore B. Starr (1837-1907), a jeweler and entrepreneur producer of small bronzes, who asked Shrady to expand the artillery group, and to model further subjects for sale through his firm. As products of his long experience at the zoo, these evolved as a superb elk buffalo, called Monarch of the Plains (1899), and an equally impressive Bull Moose (1900), of which detailed statuettes were issued, under copyrights by Starr. These were some of the very first American bronzes to be cast by the lost wax method, pioneered in the United States by Riccardo Bertelli at his new firm of Roman Bronze Works in Brooklyn in the late 1880s. The great American artist of Western subjects, Frederic Remington (1861-1909), was sufficiently enthusiastic about that new process --and about Shrady--to acquire an early cast of the Monarch of the Plains, and to become a friend of Shrady's. Between March and May of 1900, Remington designed his next sculpture, The Norther, specifically for lost wax casting at the Roman Bronze Works, and thereafter used that process exclusively himself. The wind-blown virtuosity of Remington's Norther, in turn, strongly influenced Shrady's Empty Saddle, which was designed between March and December of 1900.
Among other sculptors attracted to the new bronzecasting technique in 1899/1900 was Karl Bitter (1867-1915), who saw Shrady's Monarch of the Plains and Bull Moose statuettes on sale through Starr, and invited the artist to prepare eight monumental expansions of them for the grounds of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Bitter further offered Shrady the use of his sculpture studio in Weehawken, where the enlargements (to eight and nine feet, respectively) were carried out within six weeks; these were the first professional premises Shrady had occupied, and his independent association with Bitter constituted his only technical apprenticeship. His plaster colossi on the canal bridges at the Buffalo fairgrounds were a popular and critical success, and launched his career as a sculptor of public monuments.
Early in 1901 a member of the James R. Howe Art Committee noticed a cast of The Empty Saddle in Starr's shop on Fifth Avenue, and on its merit invited Shrady to enter the competition for a equestrian statue of George Washington at Valley Forge, to be erected at the Brooklyn entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge. Shrady rented a studio in the Chelsea district of Manhattan (a block from Starr's premises on Madison Square), and produced five models in six months: the two he submitted won the $50,000 competition, and after submission of his final project in 1905--the monument was dedicated in 1906. Shrady copyrighted its working model in 1903, and from 1903 to 1904 he cast from it a small edition of statuettes by Roman Bronze Works.
Shrady's meteoric success was crowned by his victory in 1902 in a nationwide competition, judged by a commission established by the United States Congress (which appropriated $250,000 for the winning design), for the Appomattox Memorial Monument to General Ulysses S. Grant, to be erected in Union Square at the east end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Its seven enormous components--two lateral bronze groups of a cavalry charge and an artillery team, flanking a colossal bronze figure of Grant on horseback, surrounded by four recumbent lions--are placed on individual pedestals and a base ensemble by the architect Edward Pearce Casey, stretching some 262 by 71 feet along the edge of the Capitol Basin. The research, design, casting, and mounting of the Grant Memorial extended over a full twenty years; Shrady lived to see his masterwork installed (in respective campaigns of 1909, 1912, 1916, and 1920), but died in New York on 12 April 1922, a fortnight before the memorial's dedication on the centennial of Grant's birth on the 27th.
The near-simultaneous victories of the Washington (1901) and Grant (1902) equestrian competitions, by a thirty-year-old "gentleman amateur," suddenly elevated Shrady to the status of a nationally prominent sculptor. It is true that he had to overcome a few "false starts" near the beginning of his career; he was commissioned in 1903 by the Holland Society of New York to design an equestrian monument of William the Silent for Riverside Park, but that project was abandoned, unexecuted, in 1913. Karl Bitter initially asked him in 1908/1909 to design a bronze relief of Local Indians Greeting the Explorer Henry Hudson for the base of a Hudson-Fulton memorial planned for Sputyen Duyvil Hill in the Bronx; but after a thirty-year delay the Henry Hudson Memorial Column was completed in 1939 with a figure of that explorer (after Bitter's design) and two bronze reliefs (the Indians possibly after Shrady's lost design), all executed by Karl Gruppe (1893-1982). Shrady did design two further equestrian monuments which were completed, that of Major-General Alpheus Starkey Williams for Belle Isle Park, Detroit (1913-1921), and one of General Robert E. Lee (commissioned 1917, modified and executed in 1924 by Leo Lentelli) in Lee Park, Charlottesville, Virginia. Shrady's monumental works also include a seated bronze memorial statue of the railway magnate Jay Cooke in Duluth, Minnesota (dedicated in 1921). He contributed a sculptural study of a horse's head to the National Academy of Design in 1908, and modeled a Bust of General Grant for the New York University Hall of Fame; he also executed a portrait of Emily Morris (present location unknown). Shrady's numerous bas-relief portraits (the present locations of which are unknown) included one of Daniel Bennett Saint-John Roosa, a medical colleague of his father's (1903/1908) as well as Mrs. Archibald Douglas and her daughter (undated). He even made portraits of celebrity dogs: Jay Cooke is accompanied by his collie, and Mrs. Louise Grau of New York commissioned a canine group (untraced).
Beginning his career as a modeler of animalier bronzes (the early genre represented by The Empty Saddle), Shrady developed with astonishing speed into a capable, and often inspired, monumental sculptor. George Washington at Valley Forge won high praise from Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) and others, for its exceptionally inventive use of heavy draperies, as well as the original, naturalistic attitude of its mount. His great Grant Memorial (whose model was selected in competition by French and Saint-Gaudens) has been universally acclaimed for the brilliance of its solution to a complicated program on an immense site; and for the continuing appeal of its dynamically active groups, in which dramatically struggling horses are managed by realistically posed and accoutered (but idealistically rendered) human figures, passionately portrayed in a kind of exalted realism. Even with his restricted oeuvre, Shrady is one of the magisterial figures of the "American Sculptural Renaissance" of the Beaux-Arts period. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
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: 465-469.