Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Cornish NH

Many “Lincoln-shaped men.” That’s what lawyer Charles Beaman promised Augustus Saint-Gaudens to lure Saint-Gaudens to Cornish, New Hampshire. In 1885, Saint-Gaudens was one of the most popular sculptors in America and he’d just gotten a commission to create a statue of Abraham Lincoln for Lincoln Park in Chicago. He needed a model for his Lincoln and Beaman promised him a Lincoln cornucopia in Cornish. So Saint-Gauden, who lived in New York City at the time, rented an inn for a summer from Beaman and started searching for his Lincoln.

Oct in NH 493a

Saint-Gaudens liked Cornish so much — there was also a thriving artists’ colony there — that he bought the inn from Beaman and made it his summer home. In 1900, he moved there permanently, naming it Aspet, after his father’s hometown in France.

Oct in NH 488a

Aspet is now part of the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site. A New Hampshire magazine printed that it’s is the least visited NPS site in the US  but that’s far from true, said the ranger who gave us a tour of the house. And I believe him — there were loads of people there on the day that we visited.

The park is made up of the house, visitor center with film and museum, studios, outdoor sculpture garden, flower gardens, and trails. We could have easily spent an entire day or more there, if we’d had the time.


I first encountered Augustus Saint-Gaudens about 30 years ago, at the grave of Marian Hooper and her husband, writer Henry Adams (of the American presidential family) in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington DC. Henry had commissioned Saint-Gaudens, the leading sculptor of the day, to create a memorial for Marian’s grave after her 1885 suicide (over the death of her father, it’s believed). The result became one of Saint-Gaudens’ most famous creations, which Saint-Gaudens called The Mystery of the Hereafter, but that is popularly known as Grief.  Henry hated that pop moniker. “Do not allow the world to tag my figure with a name!” he wrote to Saint-Gaudens. Interesting facts about the memorial: (1) Adams traveled to Japan for inspiration for the scupture, because he wanted a Buddhist-like serenity represented by the figure; and (2) the figure is unisex: Saint-Gaudens used both male and female models for the face. There’s a version in the sculpture garden.

Oct in NH 425a

Saint-Gaudens was married to a painter, Augusta Horner. Yes, Augustus married Augusta — what are the chances?  He also had a mistress, Davida Clark, who was thought to be the real love of his life.  He called her the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen and she was the face of his sculpture of the goddess Diana, which originally appeared as a weathervane on top of Madison Square Garden. The body of Diana, however, was not of Davida but of a 17-year-old NYC model. So even the most beautiful woman ever had her limits.

Oct in NH 419a

Capture2Saint-Gaudens found his Lincoln model for the Chicago commission in Langdon Morse of Windsor, Vermont, from just across the Connecticut River. He doesn’t look much like Lincoln in his photo, but you can definitely tell how he translated into the sculpture (sorry for the terrible photo of the Lincoln head, which was taken through a plexiglass case).

Oct in NH 447a

Saint-Gaudens also used life casts of Lincoln’s hands and face, made in 1860. The casts are in the museum in the visitor center as is a miniature of the Lincoln Park statue: the Standing Lincoln.

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6 Responses to Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Cornish NH

  1. This place is great! I must visit soon!

    • It was truly amazing. I can easily see how Saint-Gaudens fell in love with it. And it’s not just the house and the property. They have an impressive number of his works scattered throughout, and it’s also easy to see why he was considered one of the great sculptors of the late 19th/early 20th centuries.

  2. Wow – Langdon Morse doesn’t seem to look like Lincoln, until you see the bronze. I guess it is more about facial structure… Another fabulous home!

  3. autumnacorn says:

    So cool- can’t wait to visit!!!

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