Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi

Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (Aug 2, 1834 – Oct 4, 1904) was a French sculptor who is best known for designing the Statue of Liberty.

In 1853, Bartholdi submitted a Good Samaritan-themed sculptural group to the Paris Salon of 1853. The statue was later recreated in bronze. Within two years of his Salon debut, Bartholdi was commissioned by his hometown of Colmar to sculpt a bronze memorial of Jean Rapp, a Napoleonic General. In 1855 and 1856 Bartholdi traveled in Yemen and Egypt with travel companions such as Jean-Léon Gérôme and other “orientalist” painters. The trip sparked Bartholdi’s interest in colossal sculpture. In 1869, Bartholdi returned to Egypt to propose a new lighthouse to be built at the entrance of the Suez Canal, which was newly completed. The lighthouse, which was to be shaped as a massive draped figured holding a torch, was not commissioned.

Bartholdi served in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 as a squadron leader of the National Guard, and as a liaison officer to General Giuseppe Garibaldi, representing the French government and the Army of the Vosges. As an officer, he took part in the defense of Colmar from Germany. Distraught over his region’s defeat, over the following years he constructed a number of monuments celebrating French heroism in the defense against Germany. Among these project was the Lion of Belfort, which he started working on in 1871, only finishing the massive sandstone statue in 1880.

In 1871, he made his first trip to the United States, where he pitched the idea of a massive statue gifted from the French to the Americans in honor of the centennial of American independence. The idea, which had first been broached to him in 1865 by his friend Édouard René de Laboulaye, resulted in the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. After years of work and fundraising, the statue was inaugurated in 1876. During this period, Bartholdi also sculpted a number of monuments for American cities, such as a cast-iron fountain in Washington, DC completed in 1878.

In 1875, he joined the Freemasons Lodge Alsace-Lorraine in Paris. In 1876, Bartholdi was one of the French commissioners in 1876 to the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. There he exhibited bronze statues of The Young Vine-Grower, Génie Funèbre, Peace and Genius in the Grasp of Misery, receiving a bronze medal for the latter. His 1878 statue Gribeauval became the property of the French nation.

A prolific creator of statues, monuments, and portraits, Bartholdi exhibited at the Paris Salons until the year of his death in 1904. He also remained active with diverse mediums, including oil painting, watercolor, photography, and drawing. Bartholdi, who received the rank of Commander of the Legion of Honor in 1886, died of tuberculosis in Paris on 4 October 1904, aged 70.

In 1876, he married Jeanne-Emile Baheux in Providence, Rhode Island. Throughout his life Bartholdi maintained his childhood family home in Colmar, France, and after his death in 1904, in 1922 it was made into the Bartholdi Museum.