This sculpture was a gift to the people of the State of Illinois from French vermouth producer Noilly-Prat. This was one of many gifts packed into vintage railway box cars known as the Merci Train, or French Gratitude Train, of 1949. The purpose of this gift was to acknowledge the more than $40 million in food and aid collected in 1947 by private citizens in the United States and sent to France and Italy after World War II. The train, composed of 49 cars and filled with "gifts of gratitude," arrived in New York City on February 3, 1949, and was divided among the 48 states, with the remaining car to be shared by the District of Columbia and Hawaii. The contents of Illinois' box car was distributed at the Governor's discretion.
Many of the gifts were handmade, while others, like this sculpture, were reflective of the French cultural heritage. French sculptor François Auguste René Rodin is considered to be one of the most important figures of modern sculpture. This reduction cast of Jeanne d'Aire is from a monumental group titled The Burghers of Calais, 1884-1889. Rodin's sculpture commemorates the six townsmen of Calais who offered their lives to save their fellow citizens during a seize in the Hundred Years War of 1337 to 1453.