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The Angel of Death

The Millmore Memorial at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Daniel was not in attendance at the unveiling of The Minuteman. Shortly before the memorable day in which Ralph Waldo Emerson and the people of Concord welcomed Ulysses S. Grant, then president for the long-awaited ceremony, French was already on a pilgrimage to Florence where over the next period of two years he will learn from the great masters of the Renascence and from Thomas Ball, an expat and fellow New Englander living as a member of the creative milieu in Florence.

As the son of the honorable Henry Flagg French, and Anne Richardson whose patrician roots could be traced back to early colonial times, Daniel was clearly in a position to afford such investment on his education, in fact it was expected of him. His previous apprenticeships with distinguished American sculptors like John Quincy Adams Ward were brief and circumstantial leaving left French the need to connect with the fundamentals of sculpture at its roots, and Florence was where he was going to make that connection.

On his return to America in the summer of 1876 Daniel learned that his father had just been appointed by President Ulysses Grant as Assistant Secretary to the Treasury, a position from which he will greatly contribute to the success of his children. Two years later, his eldest son William became Secretary of the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, known today as the Art Institute of Chicago, and Daniel was already on his way to become a prolific and acclaimed sculptor in the American school of Beaux-Arts.

Daniel’s first relevant commission, other than the bust he did of his father and that other another he did of Ralph Waldo Emerson, was Peace and Vigilance, the sculptural group for the front pediment, of the Federal Customs House and Post Office in St. Louis, Missouri for which he had absolute creative freedom. It was the first of several to follow, next came Law, Prosperity and Power which French completed in Concord for the Philadelphia Custom House.

American cities where at last showing signs of the architectural refinement that characterized public buildings in major European cities Particularly in Paris where Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Daniel’s most distinguished contemporary rival, had his cultural roots. In a way, Saint-Gaudens and French did complement each other by bringing to the table the traditions of Paris and Florence with a unique American flavor.

In the coming years French will work simultaneously in several projects, often from different studios, either built or rented to accommodate the needs of his prolific endeavors. John Harvard (1884) the sculpture inspired by the founder of the of the famed university was one of his first in bronze, a technic he felt required further instruction, a learning experience that will ultimately take him to Paris. But before heading back to Europe, Daniel will complete The Millmore Memorial, also known as The Death and The Sculptor, the work was commissioned to mark the grave of brothers Joseph and Martin Millmore brothers, stone carver and sculpture respectively.

The Millmore Memorial is perhaps one of French’s most resounding and accomplish works one in which the onlooker immediately empathize with the way in which Death approaches the sculpture, still at work to softly hinder his hand from further doing. In Paris, where the plaster cast was brough to be cast into bronze, of The Millmore Memorial was awarded a medal at Salon de Champs de Mars, only the second such award bestowed by the Parisian art world to an American. A marble copy of The Millmore Memorial was later donated to The Metropolitan Museum of Art where it remains today.

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