Daniel Chester French, Marquis de Lafayette


In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Daniel Chester French was one of America’s foremost sculptors. Working with prominent architects such as Charles McKim, Cass Gilbert, and Henry Bacon, French sculpted several important public monuments including the seated Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.

French sculpted Lafayette as part of a commission for a monument in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York. Unveiled in 1917, the bronze relief was set in a granite stele designed by Henry Bacon.  he composition was based on an engraving of Lafayette at the Siege of Yorktown, 1781 attributed to Noel Le Mire after a painting by Jean-Baptiste Louis Le Paon, and a second by H.B. Hall based on Le Mire’s print published in Washington Irving’s Life of Washington (1859). Le Paon’s original painting, Lafayette at Yorktown is in the College’s art collection and several copies of the Le Mire print are held in the College’s Special Collections.[1]

Two years after the Brooklyn commission, following a chance meeting on a train between the artist’s assistant, Henry Augustus Lukeman (1872–1935) and Frederick Knecht Detwiller (Lafayette, Class of  1902), French offered the College the full-scale plaster model of the Marquis used in casting the Prospect Park  relief. He added details so that the sculpture could stand independently, and it was cast by Gorham Manufacturing Company. A youthful Lafayette stands with his right hand on his sword and his left hand on his hip, with a tri-corner hat tucked under his arm.  This sculpture of Lafayette stands south of Colton Chapel.

In June 1931, French donated the small-scale plaster model for the relief to the College as well. In a letter to Detwiller, he wrote:  I have a “little sketch model that I had made of the Brooklyn monument, which is a foot square, more or less…if you care for it, I shall be happy to send it wherever you say.”  French arranged for the plaster to be cast in bronze but the casting was not completed until after his death.  The French-Detwiller correspondence and memorabilia related to the Marquis de Lafayette and his triumphal American tour are held in Special Collections, Skillman Library, Lafayette College.


[1]  Elmer Sprague, Brooklyn Public Monuments: Sculpture for Civic Memory and Urban Pride(Indianapolis: Dog Ear Publishing, 2008).