George Washington Inaugural Centennial Medal
Augustus Saint-Gaudens, American (born Ireland), 1848 - 1907. Modeled by Philip Martiny, American, 1858 - 1927.
Augustus Saint-Gaudens was a leading American sculptor of the late nineteenth century who was celebrated for his public monuments and ideal figures, such as his Diana (1892-94), which stands atop the Museum’s Great Stair. Trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Saint-Gaudens returned to the United States in 1875 and soon established himself as the foremost public sculptor in America, winning many competitions and earning the esteem of his peers, including architect Stanford White (1853-1906). White often collaborated with Saint-Gaudens to design decorative bases for his sculptures, and the two men collaborated on White’s Madison Square Garden, which was crowned by the Museum’s Diana. Saint-Gaudens worked in both large and small scales, however, as well as in the round and in relief. This medal commemorates the centennial of Washington’s first inauguration in 1789. On its face, the medallion features a dignified bust of Washington in profile and a bundle of fasces, a symbol of the Republic. The verso is dominated by a spread-winged eagle and an extended inscription alongside the coat-of-arms of New York State. Two thousand copies of the medal were struck in 1889, and they were sold at the exhibition in honor of Washington’s inauguration for the deliberately affordable price of two dollars. The medallion’s relief format reflects Saint-Gaudens’ beginnings as a cameo cutter during the 1860s, while its memorial subject is typical of much of his signature work, including the superlative Angel of Purity of 1902 (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2005-2-1).