Walk towards the front of the Mausoleum. As you approach it, turn right. There is a path there. Follow it. Eventually, you will begin to see something through the trees. A flash of white, a hint of a wing. Keep walking, and eventually you will stumble upon The Angel of Grief, tucked into one of the recesses of Stanford’s arboretum.
The Angel of Grief as it stands at Stanford was commissioned by Jane Stanford to commemorate her late brother, Henry Clay Lathrop. However, it is by no means an original piece. William Wetmore Story (February 12, 1819 – October 7, 1895) originally sculpted the piece, which he named “The Angel of Grief Weeping Over the Dismantled Altar of Life,” as a gravestone for himself and his wife. Story was known for breaking from the traditions of his time by sculpting characters in states of dishevelment and distress. Prior to his lifetime, sculptures most often depicted figures in heroic poses, displaying the full glory and success of humanity. Story spurned this norm and opted instead to show figures in snapshots of human emotion. His bold choice of subject matter is what eventually led to the production of The Angel Grief, whose twin now resides at Stanford.
Keep walking, and eventually you will stumble upon The Angel of Grief, tucked into one of the recesses of Stanford’s arboretum.
The sculpture was originally placed in 1901. In 1906, the San Francisco earthquake caused the dome and columns that once protected it to collapse, and the statue was rebuilt in 1908. The dome and columns were not included in the new design, but the foundation still remains and the sculpture is now surrounded by a small path and a fence.
The beauty of The Angel of Grief is a poignancy rare to Stanford’s campus. She is hunched over an altar, arms splayed helplessly, her head hidden in the crook of her elbow, her wings resting at her sides. She is not the majesty of the sphinxes guarding the mausoleum. She is not the twisted muscles and flawless bodies of the Rodin sculptures outside of Cantor. She is a woman experiencing the sorrow of loss and molded into a continuous state of mourning. She maintains all of the majesty inherent to the figure of an angel, yet she weeps as would a normal human at the shock of loss.
Perhaps the juxtaposition of elements is what makes The Angel so powerful, and is perhaps why her image is so widely reproduced. Beyond replications residing in Costa Rica, Luxembourg, British Columbia, Arkansas, and myriad other locations throughout the world, Story’s sculpture has also been popularized as a gravestone. If you type “The Angel of Grief” into any search engine, the first thing that will pop up is a string of adverts for miniature renditions of the statue.
If you type “The Angel of Grief” into any search engine, the first thing that will pop up is a string of adverts for miniature renditions of the statue.
The first think most people would assume from this is that such rampant replication cheapens the work itself. I would have to disagree. Though the image becomes increasingly generic with increased dissemination, the message itself only grows in power. As more and more Angels of Grief make their way into the world, more people share the experience of connecting with her on a human level. Across continents and oceans, two people can connect to the same image for the same reasons.
So next time you find yourself near the mausoleum, turn right. Go to The Angel of Grief. Sit down in front of her, look at the trees, the grass, the road not too far away, and then at her.
Though she is only a replica, and one of many, at that, we are unbelievably lucky to have our own Angel of Grief here at Stanford. We are unbelievably lucky to have a timeless symbol created by a sculptor who chose to dive into the world of human emotion. We are unbelievably lucky to have an iconic symbol of grief and sorrow just sitting in our front yard. So next time you find yourself near the mausoleum, turn right. Go to The Angel of Grief. Sit down in front of her, look at the trees, the grass, the road not too far away, and then at her. Think of someone you have lost, and know that somewhere across the world, someone is sharing in your experience, someone is mourning with the Angel of Grief.