1.7. AUGUSTUS SAINT-GAUDENS AND HIS DIANA

(I have included this “tangential” subject to introduce you to both Saint-Gaudens, who will play a major role in the design of the 1893 Fair, and to the shift towards Classicism in the East.)

McKim, Mead, and White, Madison Square Garden, New York, 1889-90. (Online)

Meanwhile, White still had to complete the top of the tower of Madison Square Garden.  Chicago’s Board of Trade was topped by Sperry’s “Corona” that incorporated a weathervane of a ship under full sail, symbolic of the importance of Chicago’s location on Lake Michigan.  White, on the other hand, chosen for his subject the Greek goddess Artemis, also known as the Roman goddess Diana. There was little symbolic connection for this choice, as New Yorkers did not worship the gods of ancient Greece and Rome.  She was the ancient goddess of the rural countryside, animals and hunters, the moon, and fertility.  One possible reason for his choice was the connection between the moon and the many evening activities planned for the complex. (I need to interject the possibility of the influence of White’s well-known sexual preference for seducing underage girls with his red velvet swing hung from the ceiling of his apartment.)  The choice of a Classical god was also a reflection of the change in fashion, especially in the East at this moment to a preference for all things Classical, a topic I will explore in the next volume dedicated to the Fair.

White commissioned his friend, sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (see Vol. 7 for biography) to design an appropriate sculpture as a weathervane to top it off.  The two artists believed that the sculpture was so critical to complete the tower’s silhouette that Saint-Gaudens designed it for free and White paid for its fabrication.  Saint-Gaudens responded with a gilded 18’ tall statue of Diana made from copper sheets attached to a rotating iron frame (like a miniature Statue of Liberty).  The 1800# statue was fabricated by the W.H. Mullins Company in Salem, OH.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Diana, 1890. Upon completion by the W.H. Mullins Co. in Salem, OH. (Online)

White designed a base for the statue that was a 12’ long crescent moon of plate glass that was lit from within by sixty-six incandescent bulbs.  When these was placed atop of the tower in October 1891, the finished height of the 38’ square tower was 341.’  (Chicago’s Board of Trade with the corona topped off at 322.’) White staged an extravaganza the likes of which had never been seen before in New York on November 2, 1891, to open the tower to the public.  Following the requisite display of fireworks, a show that deployed 6,600 electric incandescent bulbs on the base building and another 1,400 bulbs that outlined the tower, introduced New Yorkers to the entertainment potential of the electric light.  Two powerful searchlights then completed the evening by shining into the night sky and eventually came to rest on Diana.  The precedent for a Broadway opening had been established.  Nonetheless, by this date New York had finally lost the Fair to Chicago, but White’s electric extravaganza had set a precedent for the upcoming Fair.

FURTHER READING:

Stern, Robert A.M. New York: 1880. New York: Monacelli Press, 1999.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

3 thoughts on “1.7. AUGUSTUS SAINT-GAUDENS AND HIS DIANA

  1. I’m not surprised that it’s hard to find any photos of Diana 1.0 in situ. I’ve read that McKim warned Stanny early on that the statue was going to be out of proportion but White and St. Gaudens went ahead anyway. There was a fair amount of embarrassment no doubt when McKim was proven right.

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