Masterpieces

Sculptures and Medals  

Medals

From the colonial period onward, American sculptors designed and cast commemorative medals, many of which are conserved today in French public collections. During the Revolutionary War, medals were often commissioned from French foundries such as Duvivier, Gatteaux and Dupré to commemorate significant battles. In the early 19th century more medals were designed in American foundries such as that of C.C. and C.W. Wright.

Throughout the first half of the 19th century, medals were cast to commemorate nearly every event of political or national.significance. But they were also cast to commemorate regional events of civic significance, most of which have long since been forgotten. The designs engraved upon the medals of this period are frequently delicate and complex. They represent high achievement in the arts of casting and bas-relief.

The French state collections include examples of medals cast to commemorate every presidential election through 1852, as well as medals struck in honor of victories in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War. Peacetime events represented in the collections include a medal for the founding of Liberia in 1833, an abolitionist medal from 1838, a medal to commemorate the completion of the Croton Aqueduct in 1837, and a medal to celebrate the opening of the New York Universal Exposition in 1853.

In the later 19th century medals produced by sculptors became popular as collectible art objects. The medal was a small-scale, intimate object that, at the same time, possessed great durability and permanence. As such it was well suited to be a token of friendship or love. Many of the later 19th century medals in French museum collections were produced to commemorate artists’ intimates. Augustus Saint-Gaudens took bas-relief to new levels of sophistication in the medals he designed for friends and acquaintances throughout the 1880s and ‘90s, such as his Portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson (1887). Frederick MacMonnies, who like his teacher Saint-Gaudens designed both monumental sculptures and pocket-sized medals executed Niagara, commissioned by the Cataract Construction Company of Niagara, New York, in 1892, and exhibited it at the Paris Salon the same year.

Medals’ durability and permanence made them a popular medium for artists who wanted to commemorate vanishing subjects. Many of the native tribes of the Southwest had already been subjected to resettlement by the time Edward Warren Sawyer made his series of medals of Indian chiefs, including The Apache "Agua Caliente” from 1908. The casualties of the First World War prompted sculptors to execute a new range of commemorative war medals. One of the finest examples in French collections is the medal made by American artist John Flanagan to commemorate the Battle of Verdun, They Shall Not Pass from 1920.