“A dry fountain is a pitiful spectacle…”
– Daniel Chester French to the Commission of Fine Arts
In 1882, Congress authorized the creation of a statue honoring Civil War Admiral Samuel du Pont, to be located in a newly-fashionable neighborhood in the District of Columbia, not far from the White House. The du Pont family, however, never liked the statue. In 1917, in keeping with changing aesthetics, they hired French to replace the statue with a more “artistic” memorial.
French must have found the request to design a replacement for a portrait statue particularly appealing, as he believed that for most memorials, symbolism was preferable to realistic portraiture. The Dupont Memorial, with its graceful allegorical figures of Wind, Sky, and Sea, harmonized with the neighborhood’s elegant mansions. And, unlike the portrait statue it replaced, it was equally striking when approached by any of the eight streets that converge on the circle. French’s fountain for Dupont Circle reflects the emerging role of sculpture in the creation of beautiful spaces, as well as his participation in the City Beautiful movement that was defining the era’s rapidly-growing American cities.