At fifteen he began to study in Paris under Emmanuel Frémiet, modelling from animals in the Jardin des Plantes. He won a medal at the Paris Salon of 1887, and was elected as a member of the jury for the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889 and again at the Exposition of 1900, each time sacrificing his own opportunities of receiving medals. He was twenty-nine when the Cross of a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor was bestowed upon him. In 1903, he collaborated with the dean of American sculptors, John Quincy Adams Ward, on the models for the pediment sculptures of the New York Stock Exchange; the pediment figures were carved by the Piccirilli Brothers.
Bartlett's masterwork was the House of Representatives pediment at the U.S. Capitol building, The Apotheosis of Democracy, begun in 1908 and completed in 1916. Among his other principal works are Bohemian Bear Tamer, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the equestrian statue of Lafayette, in the Cours Albert 1er, Paris, presented to the French Republic by the schoolchildren of America; the powerful and virile bronzes Columbus' and Michelangelo inside the Library of Congress; the Ghost Dancer, in the Pennsylvania Academy, Philadelphia; the Dying Lion; the equestrian statue of McClellan in Philadelphia; and a statue of Joseph Warren in Boston, Massachusetts. His bronze patinas of reptiles, insects and fish, several of which are in the collection of the Berkshire Museum, are also remarkable.
In 1895, he was named a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor. In 1916 he was admitted to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was also a member of the National Sculpture Society and the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers.
In the mid-20th century, Bartlett’s step-daughter, Caroline Ogden-Jones Peter  worked to ensure that examples of Bartlett’s sculpture were distributed to museums throughout the United States. Additional examples of his sculpture, including many plaster studies as well as his personal papers are found at Tudor Place, Caroline's former home with husband, Armistead Peter 3rd; a historic house museum open to the public since 1988.
A retrospective exhibition was held after his death, Paul Wayland Bartlett (1865—1925): sculptures, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris, 1929.
Joseph Warren, Roxbury, Massachusetts
- Chisholm 1911.
- Thomas P. Somma. The Apotheosis of Democracy, 1908-1916: the pediment for the House of Representatives, 1995.
- Bartlett's contribution is discussed in John Young Cole, Henry Hope Reed and Herbert Small, The Library of Congress: the art and architecture of the Thomas Jefferson Building (Washington, DC), 1997.
- Carol P. Adil, Henry A. DePhillips, Paul Wayland Bartlett and the art of patination (Paul Wayland Bartlett Society), 1991.
- "Two New Members for the Academy; Dr. Barrett Wendell and Garl Melchers, the Painter, Honored at Meeting" New York Times. November 16, 1916.
- "The International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers". Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951. Glasgow University. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
- New York Times, February 15, 1921; https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/41922211/caroline-ogden-peter
- The Washington Post, December 11,1983
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. .
- Paul Wayland Bartlett papers, 1887-1925 from the Smithsonian Archives of American Art
- Suzanne Bartlett papers relating to Paul W. Bartlett, (ca. 1883-1950s) from the Archives of American Art
- Paul Wayland Bartlett in American public collections, on the French Sculpture Census website
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