Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) was a Scottish author, poet, and travel writer whose literary works include such well-known titles as Treasure Island (1883), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), and A Child's Garden of Verses (1885). Stevenson traveled to the United States in 1887 in search of a place to soothe his chronic tuberculosis, considering both Colorado and the Adirondacks in New York. Augustus Saint-Gaudens became a fan of Stevenson's writing after reading New Arabian Nights (1882), a collection of short stories, and encouraged their mutual friend William H. Low to arrange an introduction. The meeting took place in September 1887 at the Hotel Albert on Eleventh Street in New York City. Saint-Gaudens quickly expressed interest in making a bas-relief of the author. The portrait shows Stevenson reclining on a sofa, propped up with pillows and with a stack of papers on his lap. The inscription at the top of the relief is a poem from Stevenson's Underwoods (1887) dedicated to Low, which reads: "Youth now flees on feathered foot / Faint and fainter sounds the flute / . . . Where hath fleeting beauty led? / To the doorway of the dead / Life is over, life was gay / We have come the primrose way." Stevenson and Saint-Gaudens became close friends during their modeling sessions and stayed in contact even after Stevenson moved to the South Pacific. Stevenson died in Samoa at the age of forty-four. The bas-relief of Stevenson became extremely popular and was reproduced in several different bronze castings and electrotype editions, some with changes in decorative detail, design, and selected inscription.
Luce Object Quote:
"My episode with Stevenson has been one of the events of my life, and I can now understand the state of mind he gets in about people. I am in that beatific state. It makes me very happy . . ." Letter from Saint-Gaudens to William H. Low dated 1887, in Low, A Chronicle of Friendships 1873-1900, Scribner's, 1908