“Grand as the idea which it embodies”
September 3, 2013
Bartholdi had volunteered to design a liberty statue for America several years before his trip to the U.S. in 1871. The political situation in France and war in Europe had delayed the start of the project, and when he was finally ready to begin work on the design he realized that he must first get to know more about America – her people, her art, her natural landscape. It was important that this liberty statue, while having broad, universal meaning, celebrate the life and achievements of the United States.
As a statue representing a “grand idea” Bartholdi felt from the start that it should be large. What he experienced in the United States not only confirmed his inclination but also encouraged him to think in even grander terms. Shortly after he arrived, in June 1871, he wrote to his mother from a beach resort in New Jersey, “Everything is big in these hotels, even the petit pois.” And then he traveled west. Walking among redwood trees in California, he immediately referred to them as “colossal.” “These colossi are superb,” he wrote, “to say nothing of the magnificent trees around them.”
It had become clear to Bartholdi, in a personal more than an abstract manner, that the scale of America is large – and the liberty statue could be, as well. Moved by the beauty and magnificence of the forest in California, he made a sketch of the redwoods to send to Édouard Laboulaye, the central sponsor of the statue. The natural grandeur of these colossi seems to have made a lasting impression. Announcing the fundraising campaign in France a few years later, Laboulaye and the Franco-American Union described the statue of Liberty Enlightening the World as a “colossal statue.”