Marquis De Lafayette
This bronze sculpture depicts the Marquis de Lafayette (1757–1834), the French-born general who fought on behalf of American rebels during the American Revolution. The nearly ten-foot-high bronze relief by Daniel Chester French (1850–1931) was a gift of Henry Harteau, a Brooklyn glass manufacturer of French ancestry, and was unveiled by representatives of the French War Commission in 1917.
French statesman and military leader Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Montier Lafayette is best remembered for his role in the Revolutionary War. Sympathetic to the American cause, he aided the colonists through the provision of experienced military leadership. The Frenchman quickly became a favorite of General George Washington, who appointed him Major General in the Continental Army during 1777. The next year, Lafayette returned to France following the formal agreement of the France/United States alliance against Great Britain. Once in France, he actively lobbied for the allotment of increased military and financial aid for the Colonies. In 1780, Marquis de Lafayette returned to America and served valorously in the Virginia campaign, which forced the surrender of Lord Charles Cornwallis in 1781.
As a true proponent of democracy, Lafayette assumed a leading role in the French Revolution of 1789. He became a member of the National Assembly, from which position he prepared the Declaration of the Rights of Man, a bill of rights based on the Virginia Declaration of Rights (also a major source for the American Declaration of Independence). He commanded the French National Guard and joined the Feuillants, a moderate political party that advocated a constitutional monarchy. He gained leadership of a French division in 1792 in the war against Austria. Chastised by the Jacobins within his unit (who were far more radical than the Feuillants) Lafayette fled to Flanders where Austrian authorities imprisoned him for five years. Upon his return to France, he avoided the dictatorial politics of Napoleon Bonaparte. Following Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, Lafayette resumed his political career by serving as a member of the Chamber of Deputies in 1815 and from 1818 to 1824. He toured the United States in 1824 during which time Congress voted him a gift of $200,000 and a large tract of land. Marquis de Lafayette, the statesman and general, maintained the convictions of democracy, social equality, and religious freedom throughout the remainder of his life.
The work, set in a picturesque pink granite stele designed by architect Henry Bacon, features a heroic-sized Lafayette standing next to his horse. French also collaborated with Bacon on the marble sculpture of Lincoln at Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Memorial (1911-22). French also sculpted the Richard Morris Hunt Memorial (1896-1901) in Central Park as well as the Four Continents (1903-07) at the U.S. Customs House (now the National Museum of the American Indian) in Lower Manhattan.
Lafayette is also represented in two other monuments that figure prominently in city parks, both designed by sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi (1834–1904), who created the Statue of Liberty (1886). One is a larger-than-life-sized bronze depiction of the general in Union Square Park (1876) and the other a 1890 bronze group sculpture that also depicts George Washington in Upper Manhattan’s Lafayette Park.
In 1988 this monument was conserved through the Adopt-A-Monument Program, a joint venture of the Municipal Art Society, Parks and the New York City Art Commission.
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The Prospect Park Well House is under reconstruction in order to build a new composting latrine. The park remains open while the building gets reconstructed.
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