Daniel Chester French

The Spirit of Life

Daniel Chester French's "The Spirit of Life" began as a commission for a memorial to Spencer Trask (1844-1909). Trask was a summer resident in Saratoga Springs, New York and a founder of the committee which was charged with renewing the city's reputation as a health resort. Saratoga Springs was, and remains, known for its fine spring water. The commission for the mounment came from George Foster Peabody who was a friend of Trask's. Henry Bacon, who collaborated with French on the Lincoln Memorial, designed the setting for French's statue. French's first design was for Spirit of the Waters a rendering of an angel with downturned glance, large wings and pensive pose. Trask's family asked French for a more active pose for the statue and the result was "The Spirit of Life." French's statue holds a basin (from which water from the fountain falls into the pool below) and a pine branch (which was evidently a Trask family symbol of some sort). The Trask Memorial was dedicated on July 14, 1914 and may be found in Congress Park in Saratoga Springs.

"The Spirit of Life" is one of Franch's finest "active" statues. The flow of the angel's robe and the position of her right foot gives a great deal of motion. Several smaller castings of the statue were made and authorized by French; six were made between 1923 and 1931. A casting dated May 1914 is found at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, not far from French's studio at Chesterwood. "The Spirit of Life" is displayed outdoors in an open air vestibule which serves as an entrance to the church. "The Spirit of Life", even in this smaller, three foot high version, is alive with movement. While it is difficult to photograph a bronze statue which is both in shade and in bright light at the same time, the photos below will give a good idea of the beauty of French's work.

I do not know the circumstances of how this particular copy of "The Spirit of Life" came to be at St. Paul's Church. The date of May 1914 puts this casting earlier than other castings of the work; in fact, this casting was done before the "Trask Memorial" was dedicated. French's work stands on a pedestal on which the following is engraved:


"The Spirit of Life" is located at St. Paul's Church on Main Street (directly across from the Red Lion Inn) in Stockbridge, Massachusetts

All photos below were taken by Douglas Yeo in August 2004.

Daniel Chester French's "The Spirit of Life" in situ, in an outdoor vestibule which serves as an entrance to St. Paul's Episcopal Church.

A full view of "The Spirit of Life" from the front, including the pedestal.

"The Spirit of Life" from the front. Note the bowl in her left hand and sprig of pine branch in her right hand.

This view from the left shows "The Spirit of Life" in its most striking pose - notice how active the angel appears to be, especially how French has positioned her right knee.

A view from the rear of the statue showing an excellent detail of the angel's wings.

A full side view from the right.

A detail of French's signature on "The Spirit of Life" (my apologies for cutting off the right side of his name).

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