French was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, and raised in Cambridge and Concord, Massachusetts, the twin literary capitals of old New England. Home to such major writers as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the Alcott family, the romantic tales spun in (and about) these historic communities held sway over French and the nation for the rest of the nineteenth century. French's later portrayals of strong, dignified, historical figures seem an ideal complement to such communities. The setting and characters of literary Concord had a very direct influence on the young sculptor. Abigail May Alcott was his first art teacher and French came to prominence with his statue of the Minute Man, a work commissioned by the town in 1873. Although President Grant, James Russell Lowell, Emerson, and Longfellow attended the dedication, the sculptor himself was absent, having left in 1874 to pursue his studies in Italy. French worked overseas in the studio of Thomas Ball for two years and returned to America where, until his death in 1931, he executed allegorical and historical figures for public spaces and portrait statues for private consumption. His work graces public buildings, parks, and gardens from Boston to Nebraska.
William H. Truettner and Roger B. Stein, editors, with contributions by Dona Brown, Thomas Andrew Denenberg, Judith K. Maxwell, Stephen Nissenbaum, Bruce Robertson, Roger B. Stein, and William H. Truettner Picturing Old New England: Image and Memory (Washington, D.C.; New Haven, Conn; and London: National Museum of American Art with Yale University Press, 1999)