August Gaul grew up as the son of a stonemason in Hanau, Germany, a town outside of Frankfurt. He inherited his father’s ability to work with his hands, assisting in his daily work and enrolling in drawing lessons by age 12. He studied at the local academy to be a modeller between until moving north to Berlin to broaden his prospects and further his own career. During this time, he worked in the applied arts and assisted notable contemporaries Alexander Calandrelli, Paul Meyerheim, and Reinhold Begas in their studios. Gaul studied at the academy in Berlin, and won a lifetime pass to the zoo where he was able to observe various animals, the main focus of his compositions. While working for Meyerheim, he was exposed to the painter’s collection of Animalier sculptures by Antoine-Louis Bayre, the father of the movement.
While completing a year long residency in Rome, August Gaul was introduced to a group of artists who associated with neoclassical principles, leading him to join the Berlin Secession, a group of artists who formed in 1898 in response to the exclusion of non-academic styles from large scale exhibitions. Gaul joined this group when he started exhibiting in Berlin, as his style had veered away from tradition when studying in Italy. He rejected the dramatized representational styles imposed upon him, and instead grew into his own reduced-form style.
As a leading member of the Berlin Secession, August Gaul ruminated on the emerging expressionist movement and what it meant for future artistic endeavors. Although Standing Bear is largely representational, it possesses a detachment from reality that permeates the artist’s oeuvre. While his Animalier predecessors were focused on capturing the emotion and movement of their subjects, Gaul was interested in conveying the spirit of the animal through soft edges and expressive faces.
Gaul’s bronzes can be found in the Hamburg and Frankfurt Museums, and the bronze Eagle he created for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 in St. Louis sits proudly in the Grand Court of what is now known as Macy’s Center City in Philadelphia.