Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Shaw Memorial and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment

Photo from MALKIN LECTURE: Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial on August 26, 2014

November 4, 2014

Saint-Gaudens’ masterpiece of memorial sculpture The Shaw Memorial commemorates the service and sacrifice of the first regiment of African-Americans formed in the North during the Civil War, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment, and their commander Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (a former Seventh Regiment member). Dedicated in 1897 on the Boston Commons, the work is an artistic essay on loyalty, self-sacrifice, and commitment. Using classical forms of art and symbolism with a thoroughly modern theme, the artist presents a commanding image of uncommon courage. The continuing power of the monument rests partially in its accuracy of historical detail and its combination of the “ideal with the real” as Saint-Gaudens expressed it. Curator Sarah Greenough examines the enduring significance of this beloved monument. Original daguerreotypes and carte-de-visite portraits of the actual members of the 54th Massachusetts along with works by such contemporary artists as Richard Benson and Carrie Mae Weems tell the story of the legacy of the 54th’s celebrated Battle of Fort Wagner and their enduring significance.

Sarah Greenough is the Senior Curator and Head of the Department of Photographs at the National Gallery of Art, Washington. She has organized numerous exhibitions for the Gallery, including Alfred Stieglitz (1983), On the Art of Fixing a Shadow: 150 Years of Photography (1989), and Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans (2009). She was also co-curator of Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840 – 1860, (2008), Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial (2013), and curator of Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg (2010). Greenough is the author of many publications, including My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, Volume One, 1915 – 1933, Yale University Press, 2011. Her exhibitions and publications have won many awards, including the International Center of Photography Publications Award for On the Art of Fixing a Shadow: 150 Years of Photography and the George Wittenborn Memorial Book Award for Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set.

Photo: Jarek Tuszynski

2014 MALKIN LECTURE SERIES

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