The Victory Gold Piece

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The Victory Gold Piece

United States, 1905-1907
Sculpture
Gold
Diameter: 1 15/16 in. (4.92 cm)
Gift of Virginia Hobbs Carpenter in memory of Virginia Loop Hobbs (M.83.233)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

In 1905, soon after they met, President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned Saint-Gaudens to redesign the ten-dollar, twenty-dollar, and one-cent coins....
In 1905, soon after they met, President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned Saint-Gaudens to redesign the ten-dollar, twenty-dollar, and one-cent coins. They agreed that ancient Greek coins, as the most artistic ever made, should serve as the standard for the new American ones. It was the president’s suggestion that Saint-Gaudens should adopt in his designs the exceptionally high relief and raised rims of the ancient models. He corresponded with the sculptor frequently during the fall of that year to review design details. The design for the twenty-dollar gold piece was revised three times. Although the position of the eagle on the reverse changed from standing to flying, the obverse remained close to Saint-Gaudens’s original concept of a figure "striding forward as if on a mountaintop," a "living thing and typical of progress." Differences of opinion with the mint officials regarding the practicality of the high relief delayed the minting until after the sculptor’s death. At the president’s insistence a small number of experimental, extra-high-relief versions of the twenty-dollar coin were struck, and then an edition of high-relief coins was minted. Because these high-relief coins had to be struck on a medal press, rather than a regular coin press, and because they would not stack, Charles E. Barber (1842-1917), the mint engraver, then modeled a coin in flat relief and changed the date from Roman numerals to the Arabic 1907. The museum’s coin is part of the regular issue in high relief, put into circulation in December 1907, before the Barber-modified final issue. Saint-Gaudens’s ten- and twenty-dollar coins generally have been considered the most artistic ever produced in the United States. President Roosevelt felt the issuance of these coins to have been one of the important accomplishments of his term in office.
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About The Era

After the centennial of 1876 the foremost place for American artists to show was no longer New York but Paris....
After the centennial of 1876 the foremost place for American artists to show was no longer New York but Paris. By the late nineteenth century the Paris Salon was the most important exhibition space in the Western world. Artists from many nations would submit their best works to its annual exhibition. The honor of being accepted presaged an artist’s future success. Thousands of paintings, sculptures, and works on paper were presented at each Salon; the exhibition halls were so crowded that paintings were hung to the ceiling with sculptures scattered about. To be hung “on the line” (at eye level) meant a work of art ranked among the best in the show. Since a painting might be skied (hung near the ceiling), many artists painted on a large scale to ensure that their work could be seen no matter where it was placed.
Contrary to earlier periods, American painting in the late 1800s was no longer dominated by a single aesthetic. Munich-school paintings—narrative scenes, often based on literature or history and painted in a dark palette—as well as small figure paintings in the realist tradition were popular in both France and the United States. Large portraits represent the academic style that dominated official taste during this era. Bright, sun-drenched scenes by a more progressive group of artists, the impressionists are diametrically opposite in color, mood, and concept to muted tonalist and symbolist works. Whereas the impressionists celebrated contemporary life with all its transformations, the tonalists and symbolists created hazily illuminated, dreamlike imagery.
Sculptures range from academic examples of idealized mythological imagery to expressions of the newer interest in the emotive potential of the human form. Equestrian bronzes by Frederic Remington demonstrate that at the turn of the century there was a continuing enthusiasm for heroic depictions of the West despite the increased internationalism of American taste.
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Bibliography

  • About the Era.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1991.