The Spirit of Life

The Spirit of Life” is a sculpture by American sculptor Daniel Chester French.

“The Spirit of Life” began as a commission for a memorial to the famous Wall Street financier Spencer Trask (1844–1909). Trask was a summer resident in Saratoga Springs, New York and a founder of the committee which was charged with renewing the city’s reputation as a health resort. The commission for the monument came from George Foster Peabody who was a friend of Trask’s. Henry Bacon, who collaborated with French on the Lincoln Memorial, designed the setting for French’s statue. Audrey Munson was the model for the statue.

The statue stands in the heart of Congress Park in Saratoga Springs, New York, on a shallow niche of white marble with a balustraded terrace above and an oblong lagoon trail running belt, set in marble and surrounded with verdant shrubbery, green lawns, and a wealth of flowers below. The statue is a figure of a winged woman, hands poised high above her head. The figure represents Hygieia, the giver of health, who usually appeared in Greek and Roman art accompanying her father, Asklepios, the god of medicine. She is often shown offering nourishment to a serpent entwined on the staff Asklepios carries. In French’s conception, Hygieia holds a shallow bowl aloft and in the other hand clasps a pine bough, a reference to the towering pines on the grounds of the Trasks’ estate. The goddess is poised lightly on a rock, and a stream of water pours from its cleft. The pedestal is a sculptured reproduction of the tufaceous deposits seen about the orifice of many of Saratoga’s famous springs. Inscription on the statue reads “To do good and serve my fellow man.”

“The Spirit of Life” is one of French’s finest “active” statues. The flow of the angel’s robe and the position of her right foot gives a great deal of motion. Several smaller castings of the statue were made and authorized by French; six were made between 1923 and 1931.

It is considered a contributing object to the National Historic Landmark District that includes the park and Canfield Casino waterproof bag for camera.