A rare statue of Abraham Lincoln donated to the Colby College Museum of Art

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A rare 40-inch bronze sculpture of Abraham Lincoln modeled after a famous 12-foot statue that has been on display in a Chicago park since the late 19th century will soon be part of the Lunder Collection at the Colby College Museum of Art.

Peter and Paula Lunder, the collection’s namesake, paid $1.15 million at an auction last month for a replica of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ iconic work, which they donated to the Waterville College Museum.

The cast of ‘Abraham Lincoln: The Man’ – sometimes referred to as Standing Lincoln – is one of 17 known replicas of the original, all made before 1923. It depicts the 16th president rising from a chair, one foot forward , to make a speech. , head tilted in contemplation.

Jacqueline Terrassa, Carolyn Muzzy director of the Colby College Museum of Art, said the artist and this piece have been on the Lunders’ radar for some time.

“It’s a very beautiful sculpture of Lincoln…a figure that is connected to so many aspects of American history,” she said.

The Lunder Collection at Colby is one of the largest private collections of American artwork in the world. Among the more than 500 works of art are works by Winslow Homer and Georgia O’Keefe and more than 300 works by James McNeil Whistler, an influential 19th-century painter who was born in Massachusetts but spent much of his life in England.

The Lunders have long been patrons and philanthropists and donated much of their $100 million collection to Colby in 2013. Colby College graduate Peter Lunder is the nephew of the late Dexter Shoe Co mogul. Harold Alfond and was president of this company. for many years.

The Lunders bought the Lincoln cast at an auction last month held by Skinner Auctioneers of Marlborough, Massachusetts. The selling price was well above the $700,000 to $900,000 the auctioneer estimated the coin could fetch, but less than what another replica sold for in 2020.

Robin Starr, vice president of Skinner Auctioneers and director of US and European artwork, said the price was no surprise given the piece’s rarity and significance.

“It’s a little harder to come up with an estimate for something like that because there aren’t that many,” she said. “But any work featuring someone of that level of fame is going to have some cachet.”

Terrassa said she understands why the purchase price of a work of art often attracts attention, but she said this sculpture had value for Colby beyond that.

“We are very happy to have it in our collection,” she said.

Starr said the sculpture had been on display for many years in the library of a Massachusetts educational institution, which she did not name at the request of the previous owner. The top of Lincoln’s head is worn to a shiny patina, apparently because students used to rub it down, Starr said.

“Once (the school) found out what it was worth, they took it off the display,” she said.

With his tall stature, heavily puckered face and characteristic beard, Lincoln has long been a popular subject for painters and sculptors – the most notable piece, of course, is the massive marble statue of a seated Lincoln at the interior of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC

The original Lincoln statue, on which the piece that will soon be in Colby is based, was commissioned in 1883 and completed four years later. Since then, it has been exhibited in Lincoln Park in Chicago.

The artist, Saint-Gaudens, died in 1907, but his widow, Augusta Homer, who was also an artist, oversaw the casting of a series of 40-inch versions from a fully finished model of the same size , all before 1923.

There are casts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Yale University Art Gallery, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, and the Detroit Institute of Art, among others.

Another replica sold in 2020 for $1.6 million, according to auctioneer Sotheby’s, but the buyer was not disclosed.

Charlotte Mitchell, a specialist at Sotheby’s, said in 2020 that Saint-Gaudens was among the most famous sculptors of her time, but it was her first attempt to capture Lincoln.

“He prepared diligently before modeling the full-scale Lincoln. He studied his speeches and contemporary photography to get a sense of his physical likeness,” she told Auction Central News. Gaudens had met Lincoln twice: in 1861, before his presidency, and during his funeral procession in 1865. These two moments remained engraved in his memory.

Lincoln has always been one of the two or three most revered presidents in US history, and more so lately. The racial justice movement, along with the country’s increased polarizations, further elevated Lincoln as a cultural hero. There are several recent documentaries about his legacy, including a new series on Apple TV.

“I don’t know if that translates directly into the art world, but I think he probably has a moment, both for what he’s achieved and what he hasn’t” , said Starr.

Terrassa agreed.

“I think Lincoln as a person and the leader he was and the role he played as president is absolutely pivotal to American history,” she said. “Part of Lincoln’s symbolism is the notion of values: What do we stand for? That makes him a really important figure for us to think about right now.

Colby is still figuring out how he will display the sculpture, which hasn’t arrived yet, but will make an announcement in the coming weeks.


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