In 1875 Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi presented to the newly formed Franco-American Committee a baked clay model measuring 48 inches tall representing La liberté éclairant le monde
. She took the form of a Greek goddess wearing a crown of seven lances representing the seven continents and the seven seas. In her right hand, she brandished a torch that symbolized the flame that enlightens Man; in her left hand was a plaque on which was written “July IV MDCCLXXVI
” the date of the Declaration of Independence. At her feet lay broken iron shackles, symbols of the end of the reign of tyranny.
This model would, by the time of its dedication on Bedloe's Island in 1886, be replicated to a height of 151 feet and 1 inch. The Statue of Liberty, as this colossus is best known, has guarded the entrance to New York Harbor for 129 years. The figure of La liberté éclairant le monde
makes three prestigious claims: that of being the world’s best-known monument, that of being a symbol still in the news more than 125 years after her conception, and that of being the best known work of art and sculpture in the world. An iconic emblem of New York, Lady Liberty also speaks to the world; she is a nineteenth-century symbol that has more relevance than ever in the twenty-first century.
The present lot, created from the plaster in the Musée des Arts et métiers, Conservatoire National des Arts et métiers, embodies the ideology that Bartholdi held dear as well as modern technology he would respect. La liberté éclairant le monde
is an icon that, though familiar, exploited, trivialized and infinitely reproduced, has made us forget the heroic effort and technological ability that went into her creation.FRÉDÉRIC-AUGUSTE BARTHOLDI
The Frenchman Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904) was, in his lifetime, considered one of French statuary’s most eminent representatives. He was made a Commander of the Legion of Honour in 1887 and awarded the Medal of Honour at the 1895 Salon. The importance of his career cannot be disassociated from modern New York life, with his most seminal works scattered throughout the city, such as the full-size figure of Marquis de Lafayette located in Union Square Park.
Born in Colmar, in the Alsace region of France, Bartholdi moved to Paris with his mother and brother after the death of his father in 1836. The family retained their home in Colmar, which would continue to hold a special place in Bartholdi’s heart. Bartholdi studied architecture at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts; he also studied painting and accompanied Jean-Léon Gérome, the famed Orientalist painter, to Egypt in 1855. The grandiose natural landscape and monumental ancient ruins were to leave an indelible mark on Bartholdi and on the scale and style of his work.
When the Franco-Prussian War began in 1870, Bartholdi became a platoon leader in the National Guard as well as an aide to the Italian condottiere Garibaldi; Garibaldi headed the Vosges Army which continued fighting after the Sedan defeat and the collapse of the Second Empire. While the hostilities extended for only 9 months, the effect of the war was searing for Bartholdi: Colmar was annexed by the Germans, and would remain under their control until after World War I. The loss of his hometown was a catalyst in the sculptor’s life. In a letter written in 1885, he referenced his feelings of despair in 1871 frankly: “The war over, I couldn’t return to the country of my birth, Alsace, from which the Germans had excluded me; in Paris the Commune was strong and the civil war raging. After a short stay in Switzerland, I decided to make a trip to forget my sad impressions of the year which I had lived emptily, and the idea came to me to visit America.
”THE BIRTH OF LA LIBERTÉ ÉCLAIRANT LE MONDE
The conception of La liberté éclairant le monde
was heavily influenced by Bartholdi’s network of friendships and the philosophical milieu in which he found himself. In 1865, Bartholdi met Edouard de Laboulaye, a professor of comparative law at the Collège de France. de Laboulaye was an emblematic figure of French liberalism and an admirer of American institutions; it was to this man that Bartholdi owed his “discovery” of America.
de Laboulaye was a highly representative figure of the fight for liberalism under the Empire. His philosophy was entirely based on the freedom of the individual, the freedom of association, and on faith in property. de Laboulaye’s political models were the institutions of the United States. Under a pseudonym, he wrote Paris in America
(1863), expressing his passion for Americanism.
During a discussion on friendship between peoples, de Laboulaye declared: “If ever a monument were raised in America in memory of its independence, it would seem to me completely natural that it be raised through a joint effort between our two nations.”
This idea was the spark that Bartholdi had been waiting for. A monument to the long standing friendship and fraternity between France and America was beginning to form. The two major symbolic characteristics of the statue had already been discussed: the flame, which represents the knowledge and education that overcomes false idols; and the woman, who would be something of a “sister”, evoking “justice and pity”, something of a mother, of “equality, abundance and peace”.
It was therefore natural that Bartholdi shared his decision to “take the air elsewhere” with de Laboulaye in a letter dated 8 May 1871:
“I thought it was a good time to voyage, a project of which I have been pleased to speak with you, and I have done the necessary to leave at the end of this month for the United States….I hope to establish a few relations with art lovers, to have significant works to do, but above all I hope to succeed in creating my project for a monument in honour of Independence. I have reread and I still reread your works on this subject and I hope to do honour to your friendship, in the form of your patronage. I will attempt to glorify the Republic and Liberty over there, while waiting for the day that I may find it on our own soil, if it were so to be...”.
BARTHOLDI AND NEW YORK
Bartholdi was eager to experience America, the land where history was being written. He left Paris on 8 June 1871, with his old assistant, the faithful Simon. The two embarked for New York on the Pereire, a Compagnie Transatlantique vessel and on Wednesday, 21 June, with a feeling of liberation and excitement, Bartholdi made out the iconic silhouette of New York, the city of the New World that so many refugees, exiles and immigrants had already seen before him. That same day, he wrote:
“Sighted land at four o’clock in the morning. We came into harbor. A wonderful sight of movement and animation. I said goodbye to a few travelling companions. Disembarkation. Meticulous customs. Sent telegram to maman and sent some letters. I ran to take a first look at my project. The Battery, Central Park, the islands. Then, bath and rest.”
This “project” would be his obsession throughout his stay. It took Bartholdi two days to choose the place where he would raise the most famous monument in the world. He was fascinated by the location of the island of Manhattan, flanked as it is by Brooklyn and Jersey City, threaded by two dynamic rivers. Bedloe’s Island seemed to him the magical vanishing point for the tableau of New York.
For three months, Bartholdi would travel the United States to present his idea, find support, and soak up the American mentality. He was fascinated by the youth of the country, by its potential and the harsh beauty of its landscapes. From the start he felt that his art could develop in a new way. In this country where everything seemed possible, he was persuaded that he was going to achieve his biggest ambition: not just add another statue to the city’s art, but invent a site and associate it with a message defying space and time.
On his return from America to France, Bartholdi began to hone his concept and design in earnest the work that would later become La liberté éclairant le monde. The plaster model in the collections of the Musée des arts et métiers, Conservatoire national des arts et métiers would be the final model for the full size Statue of Liberty.
No copies of this plaster had been created, due to the fragility of the plaster. With the advent of 3D Metrology, a point-by-point reproduction of the plaster was created, with measurements to within 50 microns of the original, allowing a mold to be created. This original bronze edition will be cast by the Susse Foundry in twelve copies numbered from 1/8 to 8/8 and from I/IV to IV/IV and will remain the only edition of the statue. The Musée des arts et métiers was pleased to enrich its collections with number 1/8 of this original bronze edition of the Statue of Liberty.
Sotheby’s is grateful to Pierre-Yves Gagnier, director of the Heritage and Collections at the Musée des arts et metiers, Conservatoire national des art et metiers, Paris, and Robert Belot, Art historian, Co-Author of BARTHOLDI, éd. Perrin, Paris, 2004 for their help in compiling this note.