Augustus Saint-Gaudens was the leading American sculptor of the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century. After early training in New York City, he went to Paris at the age of nineteen. There he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and worked in the atelier of the sculptor François Jouffroy, remaining abroad until 1875. He established his reputation in 1881 with a monument to Admiral Farragut, now in Madison Square Park, and from that time forward he received many commissions and honors. There are eight works by Saint-Gaudens in the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
This sensitive portrait in an ornamental setting demonstrates Saint-Gaudens's skill in combining naturalism with a classical vocabulary. The likeness, set within a circular medallion suggesting an antique coin, is encircled by a wreath of oak leaves and acorns tied by decorative stylized ribbons at top and bottom. Inscribed above his head are the sitter's name and dates. The tablet below bears an expression of public appreciation for his philanthropy in his native city of Brooklyn. The bronze relief was originally mounted on a granite boulder on Plaza Street just north of Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza. A bronze replica has now taken its place.
The subject Henry W. Maxwell (1850–1902), a partner in the Maxwell and Graves Bank and was director of several corporations, including the Brooklyn Trust Company and the Liberty National Bank. From 1894 to 1900, he was also a trustee of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, the predecessor of the Brooklyn Museum of Art.