Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Object Number: 
Green patinated plaster, made to look like weathered bronze
Overall: 13 1/2 x 20 1/2 x 12 in. ( 34.3 x 52.1 x 30.5 cm )
inscriptions: under proper left shoulder: "D.C. FRENCH"
Portrait bust
Gallery Label: 
After graduation from Harvard College in 1821 Emerson studied for the ministry and became the pastor of the Second (Unitarian) Church of Boston. When he could not follow the doctrine he was expected to preach, he resigned in 1832 and went to Europe where acquaintanceship with Carlyle, Wordsworth and Coleridge awakened his interest in literary pursuits. Upon his return he settled in Concord, Massachusetts, in the colony of authors gathered there, and became the close friend of the Alcotts, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and others. A leading member of the Transcendentalist movement, he presented many of its philosophic concepts in his first major publication, Nature (1836). His platform lectures, published as the famous Essays (1841-44), attracted much attention. He contributed to The Dial and was one of its editors for two years. Like many of his New England friends, he was an ardent abolitionist and delivered frequent antislavery lectures. He died in Concord, an author and philosopher of international acclaim. Emerson was among the distinguished guests present when young French's Minuteman - his first attempt at a life-size, full-length figure - was unveiled at its wooded site beside the North Bridge outside Concord on April 19, 1875. The sculptor was then on his way to Florence for further study. It was not until his return that he modeled the likeness of the elderly author, whom he had known since his boyhood in Concord. Emerson, upon looking at the finished bust, said that it was indeed the very face he shaved. French later recalled, "When the bust was approaching completion [Emerson] looked at it after one of the sittings and said, 'The trouble is, the more it resembles me, the worse it gets.'" (Cabot, A Memoir of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 2, 1887, 679). One of the poet's friends commented that it represented him "as he now is, touched with age yet youthful in his manly features and expression. It is the form in which we wish to perpetuate our friend." (Journals of Bronson Alcott, 1938, p. 501).
Credit Line: 
Gift of Mrs. William Penn Cresson (Margaret French)
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group