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Grand Army Plaza

Henry W. Maxwell Memorial

History

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This bronze relief tablet by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907) honors Henry Maxwell (1850–1902), a Brooklyn-based banker, philanthropist, and supporter of public education. Born on December 17, 1850, Maxwell spent most of his life in his native Brooklyn and attended P.S. 15. He distinguished himself in the business world as a partner in the Maxwell and Graves Bank and as director of several corporations, including the Brooklyn Trust Company and Liberty National Bank. In addition to making money, Maxwell gave it away: a member of numerous local charities, he also helped build Memorial Industrial School No. 2, an addition to the Brooklyn Industrial School System, which he dedicated to his mother and wife.

Maxwell contributed both time and resources to local causes. A member of the Brooklyn Board of Education for many years, he also served as a Brooklyn Park Commissioner in 1884. A wealthy man, Maxwell gave generously to local organizations such as the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences (the parent institution of the Brooklyn Museum of Art on whose board he sat from 1894 to 1900), the Home for Destitute Children, and Long Island College Hospital, where he was a trustee for 25 years (serving as president for three years). His active social life included membership in the Hamilton and Excelsior Clubs.

Upon his death, friends and colleagues of Maxwell commissioned the portrait by Saint-Gaudens whose better-known local works include the Admiral Farragut statue (1881) in Madison Square Park and the General Sherman equestrian sculpture (1903) in Grand Army Plaza, Manhattan. Assisted at his studio in Cornish, New Hampshire, by Albert Jaegers, Saint-Gaudens created a sensitive high-relief depiction of Maxwell framed by ribbon-like garlands that was affixed to a monumental boulder of pink granite weighing some 20 tons. Draped in a large American flag, the monument was unveiled by Maxwell’s niece, Mrs. Howard Whitney, on December 26, 1903.

The monument was originally located at the intersection of Eastern Parkway and Flatbush Avenue, adjacent to the Mt. Prospect Reservoir. Once known as Sunset Park, the property is now the site of the Brooklyn Central Library. Due to the construction of the library, in 1912 the monument was relocated to its present location at the hillside berm nearby at Plaza Street East and St. John’s Place. It reportedly took a week and ten horses to move the massive boulder across the street.

Over time, the plantings around the monument grew quite dense and the artwork was the object of repeated vandalism. The tablet was removed to Parks storage in the early 1970s for safekeeping. In 1997, through the initiative and financial support of the David Schwartz Foundation, restoration work was completed on the original tablet. The piece was repaired, repatined and conserved, and loaned to the Brooklyn Museum of Art, where it is now displayed at the museum’s south entrance. Two replicas of the tablet were made, one of which was reinstalled in the original boulder, and the other is displayed at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, New Hampshire.

Photo of the Henry Maxwell Monument in Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn

Henry W. Maxwell Memorial Details

  • Sculptor: Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Albert Jaegers
  • Description: Plaque with bas-relief roundel on boulder. Replica of original which is now at the Brooklyn Museum
  • Materials: Bronze, granite
  • Dimensions: Plaque H: 4'3¼" W: 3'1½" D: 1¼"; Boulder H: 8' W: 6'
  • Cast: 1996
  • Dedicated: June 25, 1996
  • Fabricator: Modern Art Foundry
  • Donor: David Schwartz Foundation
  • Inscription: 1) around top of roundel: "MDCCCL HENRY W. MAXWELL MCMII"

    2. below roundel: "THIS MEMORIAL ERECTED BY HIS/ FRIENDS IS THEIR TRIBUTE TO HIS / DEVOTION TO PUBLIC EDUCATION AND / CHARITY IN THE CITY OF BROOKLYN" /

    3) signed: "A ST G"

Please note, the NAME field includes a primary designation as well as alternate namings often in common or popular usage. The DEDICATED field refers to the most recent dedication, most often, but not necessarily the original dedication date. If the monument did not have a formal dedication, the year listed reflects the date of installation.

For more information, please contact Art & Antiquities at (212) 360-8143

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