Wednesday, February 20, 2008


"Set look inscrutable, nor smile nor frown--"

This past weekend I searched out The Adams Memorial. It's a statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, commissioned in 1887 by Henry Adams to commemorate the life and death of his beloved wife, Clover Adams, who had committed suicide by drinking potassium cyanide. The Memorial is placed over their unmarked graves in Rock Creek Cemetery.

I had seen one of the two copies of the memorial a month or so ago in the National Portrait Gallery/National Museum of American Art. I had slipped into the museum after's open until 7 p.m., and sometimes I head there for a little treat on my way back to my apartment.

I had walked around the various rooms, taking in the pieces of art. I turned the corner, and saw the statue, not more than 10 feet away. It's larger than life, and just so breathtaking and frightening. It is a cloaked figure sitting on a throne-like chair, and the face stares out at you behind closed eyes from beneath the folds of a hood. The figure is neither male nor female, though it's beautiful and handsome. It's a presence. The informal name is "Grief" though Henry Adams wanted it to represent "the acceptance, intellectually, of the inevitable," and he was reportedly upset that people saw it as a sad comment on end of life.

When I read that the original is in a D.C. cemetery, I decided that I had to check it out. Coming upon it in the wild didn't give me the same kick in the gut—probably because I was looking for it, and not feeling as though it was looking for me—but it was powerful nonetheless.

According to the leaflet at the cemetery, Eleanor Roosevelt used to sit on the benches facing the statue during tough times, and would draw strength from the figure. John Galsworthy, an author, wrote about a character encountering the statue: "He didn't know, but in any case there it was, the best thing he had come across in America, the one that gave him the most pleasure, in spite of all the water he had seen at Niagara and those skyscrapers in New York... Easy to sit still in front of that thing! They ought to make America sit there once a week."

Looking at my pictures, I know I failed to capture the essence of the statue. Maybe because it was a sunny day...

The brightness of that day definitely affected the power of that statue, I could easily see it more thoroughly representing "the acceptance, intellectually, of the inevitable," were it a more dismal day. Why does the sun have to go and ruin everything!
yeah! oh least it's properly dark and dreary in the museum.
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