Who is “Diana of the Tower”?

Diana of the Tower by Augustus Saint-Gaudens
“Diana of the Tower”
by Augustus Saint-Gaudens

The multitalented Rose Nichols and her two sisters, Marian and Margaret, were heavily influenced in their artistic endeavors by their famous uncle, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Married to their mother Elizabeth’s sister, Augusta, Rose’s “Uncle Gus” was the most renowned sculptor of his day. The Nichols family kept a home in Cornish, New Hampshire, where they would escape the hot Boston summers to the mountains of New Hampshire. While in Cornish, Rose spent a lot of time at her uncle’s home and studio. The Cornish Art Colony, a place of inspiration for many New York City artists, writers, and politicians, was a very dynamic social and creative environment for Rose and her summers there would greatly influence her in her life and career. The Nichols House Museum has several of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ works in its collection, including two pieces the artist personalized for his niece.[1]

The museum’s “Diana of the Tower” is a reduced version of one of the sculptor’s most famous works. Commissioned by the prominent architect Stanford White in 1892, Saint-Gaudens sculpted “Diana” to stand as a weathervane atop White’s new Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“Diana of the Tower” atop Madison Square Garden around 1905 From Wikimedia Commons via The Dunne Archives
“Diana of the Tower” atop
Madison Square Garden around 1905.
From Wikimedia Commons via The Dunne Archives

There have been four incarnations of New York’s Madison Square Garden with White’s design being the most extravagant. Made of gilded copper and standing 42 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty, “Diana” was the tallest point in the city skyline when she was installed at 347 feet. Saint-Gaudens’ “Diana” was the first statue in history to be lit by electric light and during the day she shone bright enough in the sun to be seen across the Hudson River in New Jersey.[2]

Augustus Saint-Gaudens
Augustus Saint-Gaudens
From The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, edited by Homer Saint-Gaudens

Personal friends with the architect, Saint-Gaudens and Stanford White consulted and collaborated together frequently on various projects including the Farragut Monument in Madison Square Park, the Adams Memorial in Washington D.C., and the Boston Public Library. White designed many of the settings for Saint-Gaudens’ sculptures throughout the height of his career.[3] When looking for the crowning piece to his new Madison Square Garden, White approached Saint-Gaudens with the exclusive commission and the promise to absorb all of the costs.[4] In 1890 Saint-Gaudens set to work on what would become his most recognized sculptures.

The most remembered and celebrated version of Saint-Gaudens’ “Diana” was actually the second to stand on top of Madison Square Garden’s tower. The original sculpture designed by the artist was much larger and installed 1891.

First version of
The first version of “Diana of the Tower.”
From Wikimedia Commons via Redlemur

Standing at 18 feet tall and weighing nearly 2,000 pounds, this first design was too poorly balanced to turn properly in the wind and disproportionate for the building.[5] She was taken down in September 1892 and Saint-Gaudens brought her to Chicago to be exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition, where he served as an artistic advisor and head of the fair’s sculpture committee. Placed atop the dome of the Agriculture Building, the bottom half of the first “Diana of the Tower” was lost to the fire that destroyed the fair grounds in July 1894 after the close of the exhibition. Her top half found its way to the basement of Chicago’s Field Museum for a time before it disappeared.[6]

The original
The original “Diana” atop the dome of the
Agricultural Building at The World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.
From Wikimedia Commons via The Project Gutenberg

Saint-Gaudens’ second version of the statue was a 13 feet tall complete redesign with a slimmer and more feminine figure. Installed in November 1893, Saint-Gaudens also corrected the elements that prohibited the first weathervane from turning.[7] The artist’s only nude female figure, “Diana of the Tower” brought notoriety to White’s Madison Square Garden. Some praised the work and others condemned it. The Philadelphia Times denounced “the depraved artistic taste of New York” and one New York newspaper remarked that there had been, “a marked change in the character of the frequenters of Madison Square … formerly this beautiful park was the gathering place of children … in their place the Square is thronged with club men armed with field glasses.”

Collier’s Magazine cover satirizing Comstock’s adamant public displeasure of Saint Gaudens’
“Created by St. Gaudens. Purified by
St. Anthony Comstock”
Collier’s Magazine satirizing Comstock’s adamant public displeasure of “Diana.”
From American Eve, by Paula Uruburu

Her nudity particularly offended Anthony Comstock the founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, an institution dedicated to supervising the morality of the public. In reluctant acceptance to Comstock’s very public disapproval, White asked Saint-Gaudens to fashion his “Diana” a metal drapery to “cover her modesty,” but it was lost in the wind only weeks after being installed.[8]

With the rising popularity of the sculpture, “Diana of the Tower” was the first large work Saint-Gaudens made reductions of. In 1895, the artist obtained a copyright for reproductions and produced three different editions of the work.[9] The Nichols House Museums’ reduction is an early version, dated 1894 and marked with the artist’s name and the foundry in Paris where it was cast, but with no copyright mark.[10]

“Diana of the Tower” atop Madison Square Garden around 1900
“Diana of the Tower” atop
Madison Square Garden around 1900.
From American Eve, by Paula Uruburu

Stanford White’s luxurious Madison Square Garden, despite being the host to some of the biggest and most elaborate shows and events, never could turn a profit and in 1925 it was demolished to make way for the New York Life Insurance Building. Saint-Gaudens’ “Diana” was removed from the tower and placed in storage. The search for a new home for her in New York City proved difficult and after seven years she was gifted to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Today she stands greeting visitors at the top of the museum’s grand staircase.[11] In recent years, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has undertaken the task of regilding the sculpture for the first time since she stood as the highest point in New York City.[12]

The Nichols House Museum is fortunate to have such outstanding works by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in its collection. Come discover more about the sculptor’s extraordinary life and career through his connection to Rose Nichols and her family at the Nichols House Museum!

Diana at the top of the grand staircase at the Philadelphia Museum of Art From Wikimedia Commons via Sailko
The freshly gilded “Diana” at the top of the grand staircase at
the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
From Wikimedia Commons via Sailko

See this object in the Nichols House Museum online collection here.

“Diana” on the second floor landing at the Nichols House Museum

By Danielle Cournoyer, Summer Intern 2015

Danielle is a graduate student in history at the University of Massachusetts Boston on the public history track. While interning at the Nichols House Museum, she is working on several public outreach initiatives as well as giving visitors tours of the house and its collection. Danielle is interested in progressive era Boston and New York City. Her favorite room in the house is Rose’s library.

Sources

[1] Read more about Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ life in Cornish at http://www.nps.gov/saga

[2] Burke Wilkinson, Uncommon Clay: The Life and Works of Augustus Saint Gaudens (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985), 210-211.

[3] For more about Saint Gaudens’ collaborations with Stanford White read: David McCullough’s article “Adventures in Paris.”

[4] Wilkinson, Uncommon Clay, 212.

[5] Ibid. 217.

[6] John Dryfhout, The Work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1982), 194.

[7] Wilkinson, Uncommon Clay, 216-217.

[8] Ibid. 209-210; Paula M. Uruburu, American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the “It” Girl, and the Crime of the Century (New York: Riverhead Books, 2008), 67-68.

[9] Dryfhout, The Work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, 34. “Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History,” Augustus Saint-Gaudens: Diana, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1985.353.

[10] View a remarkable image of a model of “Diana” in Saint-Gaudens’ studio (with Boston’s Robert Shaw Memorial in the background) in the Museum of the City of New York’s Collection.

[11] David Dunlap, “A Gilded Goddess Would Rather Be in Philadelphia,” New York Times, January 22, 2014.

[12] For a behind the scenes look at The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s regilding of “Diana” visit the PMA webpage on the conservation project.