Metropolitan Museum – American Sculpture

An excellent beginning has been made in bringing together a collection of the works of American Sculptors. Most of these, indeed, are small examples suitable for household decoration, and as such may be instructive to American art lovers in their search for plastic works, for they surely excel much that is produced in other lands. A few larger pieces, however, reveal the aspirations of the native artist, and also indicate the national spirit and the personal note far more than has been the case with the American painters although there are signs of improvement among these.

The marble statues by W. W. Story are in pure academic style. There is a punctilious neatness and regulation about them which impresses one with the perfect propriety of the subjects. Even the features are illustrative in a literary sense. ” Medea Meditating the Murder of her Children ” bears the tablet on its brow. ” Cleopatra ” is a figure filled with the neo-classicism of David — yet all of Story’s work lacks the compelling note, and leaves us as cold as the marble of which it is formed. The ” Antigone Pouring Libations at the Tomb of Polynics,” by William H. Rinehart, is of the same order.

With slightly more of human interest did Hiram Powers infuse his work. His ” Fisher Boy is mediocre, but the nude ” California ” was wrought with the artist’s imagination in complete accord with the old Greek ideal of abstract beauty. The quivering contour, flowerlike and fragrant, is produced by firm modelling. Some work by Thomas Crawford, the sculptor of ” Liberty ” on the dome of the Capitol in Washington, bears the early academic earmarks.

Olin L. Warner was one of the first to allow the quality of imagination to control the rigid, academic restraint. His portrait bust of Daniel Cottier is a magnificent example of portraiture in that it conveys not only the impression of being a likeness but a type, and imbued with life. As profoundly convincing as human documents are his plaques of portraits of Indian Chiefs. These are studies of Indian types such as have well-nigh disappeared. The aboriginal traits of determination and noble reserve in these faces are not obliterated by the contaminating traces of the red man’s association with so-called civilization.

Little is shown of the foremost master of American Sculpture, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who contributed measurably much to resuscitate the slavish dependence upon the Italian Renaissance into a vigorous, national feeling. We find here, however, replicas of three low-reliefs of children, which are among the best and most characteristic of Saint-Gaudens’ productions. The one of the children of Jacob H. Schiff, a girl and a boy hand in hand, accompanied by a wolf-hound, is a magnificent pro-duct, not only in technique, but in the note of human feeling that pervades it.

Some of the younger men have indicated their proficiency in the larger element of design, the disposition of the mass, combined with suavity of outlines, changing planes of flesh, and free play of muscular movement. George Gray Barnard’s marble group, ” I feel Two Natures Struggling within Me,” is dominating by its sheer intensity and creative energy. It is thought visualized, a Titanic dream of struggle that draws us away from every day humdrum life. It is a work of striking originality and divergence.

Not that the sculptor solves the riddle he pro-pounds. The heroic figures are twin brothers, nor does he indicate which is which. The momentary triumph of one, not a whit more prepossessing than the other, leaves us in doubt whether right is triumphing at the time, and yet — such is the potent spirit of the artist’s genius that not a suggestion of modern pessimism despoils the inspiriting contemplation.

Paul Wayland Bartlett’s ” The Bohemian,” a man teaching a bear-cub to dance, has the same ruggedness of modelling and structural expression.

A bronze group, ” Primitive Man,” is by Edgar Walter, a Californian sculptor. The strongly modelled, muscular figure of a man holds a bear-cub by the scruff of the neck. The poise is well-balanced and natural, with a neo-classic adherence to detail in execution.

The Boston squabble about placing the ” Bacchante,” by Frederiok MacMonnies, in the Court of the Public Library, resulted in its finding a resting place in the Metropolitan Museum. The Boston Trustees were perfectly correct in their view that this statue, expressive of playful paganism, was not a proper ornament for the retired shades of their Court, nor furnishing the symbolism of true inspiration of browsing litterateurs.

It is a sculpture which is truly modern in its conception. There is not a trace of classic decorum or restraint. The joyful abandon of the vinous priestess, the solid contour, and the suppleness of movement are masterfully shown. Replicas of his two bronze groups, the ” Horse-Tamers,” that grace the Brooklyn Park Entrance, have a dashing, florid spirit that speak of the love of freedom and wild action, and thrill us with their superabundant vitality.

Equally spirited is the fine group by Gutzon Borglum, ” The Mares of Diomedes,” in which the fury of the high-strung steeds is manifest. The modelling is excellent, and it is in every way effective. The expression of eager straining of the ferocious man-eaters is admirably set forth. Borglum has given movement and instantaneous significance to this sculpture.

A statuette of Ruskin, by the same sculptor, evinces the broad thought with which he approaches his subjects. Nothing could be in more striking contrast — the mad stampede of the tumbling mass of horses, and this quiet dignified repose of the writer and thinker. Apparently sketchy, it has all the comprehensiveness of execution that makes one forget medium and size, and only regard the intimate revelation of a human character.

His brother, Solon Borglum’s groups, ” Bulls Fighting and ” On the Borders of White Man’s Land,” are echoes of Western life, which is the inspiration of much in our national sculpture. We find it in E. D. Palmer’s ” Indian Maiden ” and ” White Captive in E. W. Deming’s ” The Fight ” and ” Mutual Surprise “; in H. A. Mac-Neil’s Sun Vow ” and ” Primitive Chant,” and in the groups by Frederick Remington. These last may border on the melo-dramatic, they are vital presentments of white man or red man, from sober dignity to sordid squalor.

Several American artists are noted for their animal sculpture. Foremost among these are A. P. Proctor, Edward Kemeys, Anna V. Hyatt and F. G. M. Roth. William Rimmer, a noted lecturer and writer on the theory of art, was practically unknown as practitioner, but his ” Dying Centaur ” has classic proportions, and his ” Fighting Lions ” are equally successful.

Among the most promising of the younger artists is Janet Scudder, whose ” Frog Fountain ” has natural grace and ingenuity. There are several figurines, by Bessie Potter Vonnoh, that breathe a modern spirit, founded on classic study.

A fine example of realistic, portraiture is D. C. French’s bust of Ralph Waldo Emerson, which the philosopher himself epitomized when saying: ” That is the face that I shave.”