Many great artist’s works can be found in North American cemeteries, including those sculpted by Daniel Chester French, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Aldabert Volck, Felix Weihs de Weldon, Karl Bitter, Martin Milmore, Alexander Milne Calder, T. M. Brady, Albin Polasek, Harriet Whitney Frishmuth, William Wetmore Story, Edward V. Valentine, Nellie Walker, Lorado Taft, Sally James Farnham, Adolph Alexander Weinman, Solon Borglum, and John Gutzon Borglum, a veritable who’s who in the art world. These artists were able to earn a living creating sculptures, public and private.
However, a Danish neo-classic artist, Bertel Thorvaldsen (19 November 1770 – 24 March 1844) of international fame, did not work in North America. Thorvaldsen was the son of a wood carver, born in Copenhagen, trained for a time at the royal Danish Academy of Art, then furthered his art education in Rome where he gained fame as a master sculptor. His work can be found throughout Europe. Even though his work does not appear in America, his influence can be seen in American cemeteries nonetheless.
The famed Lion of Atlanta was commissioned by The Ladies Memorial Association commissioned T. M. Brady of Canton, Georgia, to create a monument to the unknown Confederate war dead buried in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia. The sculpture was commemorated on April 26, 1894.
The inspiration for the Lion of Atlanta was Bertel Thorvaldsen’s colossal Lion of Lucerne (Switzerland), which Mark Twain called “the most mournful and moving stone in the world.” As the artist was completing the sculpture he was told he would not be paid the full amount for his work. To demonstrate his contempt for those who contracted the work, Thorvaldsen carved the inset in the shape of a hog.
Variations of his bas-relief depicting an angel carrying two infants presumably to Heaven can be seen in many American cemeteries, including the Tollner gravestone in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.