Published: November 16, 2004
Gerald Peters Gallery, 24 East 78th Street, is presenting, through December 17, an examination of 100 years of American sculptural traditions in “Cast & Carved: American Sculpture 1850-1950.”
The objects on view represent neoclassical, Beaux-Arts, Western and Modernist styles of American sculpture and trace the development of a uniquely American vision.
More than 60 artists are featured in the exhibition, including Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Frederic Remington, Paul Manship and Isamu Noguchi. Works on view range in size from tabletop to monumental and are composed of a variety of materials, including bronze, wood and marble. The total weight of the exhibition’s 90 works is approximately 10,000 pounds or five tons, an amount that required the gallery to reinforce the floors of the Nineteenth Century New York townhouse to ensure adequate support.
Early Nineteenth Century American sculptors were mostly self-taught although they were influenced by the technical resources, training and sculptural traditions of Europe. Before the Civil War, the most promising American sculptors joined their English and French counterparts in traveling to Florence and Rome to learn and adopt the classical idiom.
Thomas Crawford arrived in Italy in the 1830s and was one of the first American artists to compete internationally and achieve commercial success outside of the United States. Crawford’s “A Boy and a Dog,” 1854, is in the show.
During the 1840s and 1850s, a second generation of American sculptors traveled to Italy to study, to compete in the Salons and Expositions and to seek commissions. Their carvings are imbued with Victorian sentiment and a new naturalism. Many of these artists, including Harriet Hosmer, established studios in Rome or Florence and relied upon wealthy Americans to visit their studios and buy their work. The exhibition features Hosmer’s “Puck,” carved before 1865. The sculpture was so popular upon its completion that more than 30 examples of the work were carved. Its size (31 inches) and affordable price contributed to the demand for the piece in both England and America.
Beginning in the 1850s, bronze sculptures were cast in America and artists favored a more naturalistic style that was perceived as modern and independently American. After the Civil War, the demand for statues commemorating war heroes led to the birth of a new American industry, the art foundry.
The 1870s saw a sustained preference for sculpture cast in bronze, a desire for subjects uniquely American and nationalist in spirit and for works to be made in the United States. Among the sculptors known for creating these new “American” artworks were Hermon Atkins MacNeil, Cyrus Dallin, Alexander Phimister Proctor and two artists who dominated American art production from 1880 until 1907, Daniel Chester French and Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
The sculpture of Augustus Saint-Gaudens reflect a filtering of antiquity and the Renaissance through a modern American vocabulary. His early training as a cameo carver further honed by two years in Italy studying early Renaissance carvings and long sojourn in Paris learning modern sculpture techniques led to the artist’s unique ability to work in relief.
The highlight of “Cast & Carved” is the 8-foot-high marble, “Armor Caritas,” 1902, which exemplifies Saint-Gauden’s mastery of technical aspects of sculpture production and his success in imbuing his sculpture with intimacy and personality.
Frederick MacMonnies was Saint-Gauden’s studio assistant and in the tradition of his teacher, he maintained a connection to France by keeping a studio in Paris and being artistically loyal to the Beaux Arts style. The exhibition’s “Cupid on the Warpath” and “Cupid Running” (1904-1906) are fine examples of MacMonnies’s sculpture. These works crowned the fountains at the former Knickerbocker Hotel (in Times Square) and were removed with the advent of Prohibition.
Despite his lack of formal training as a sculptor, Fred-eric Remington is known for bronzes that exemplify some of the most advanced casting in the early Twentieth Century. Initially trained as a painter at Yale University, Remington was among the first well-known American sculptors who did not train in Europe, did not belong to any of the academies nor compete for commissions.
After 1900, Remington began using the lost wax method, which allowed him to create more details in the wax and cast complex groups of horses and figures. The result was an unparalleled depiction of horses bucking precariously, racing at full gallop or in descent without the need of support structures. A superb and rare example of “Bronco Buster with Wooly Chaps #44,” 1906, is included in the show.
The work of Paul Manship combined classical motifs, streamlined silhouettes and decorative elements of the Art Deco movement with an unrivaled surface treatment, evident in works such as the exhibition’s “Europa and the Bull,” 1924. The exhibition also includes a bronze figure of a “Tortoise,” 1936-37.
Austrian-born Chaim Gross also practiced direct carving, using simple exaggerated and distorted proportions of the body as design elements while retaining a sense of human personality and organic movement. Gross’s “Abstract Figure,” 1940, is exhibited.
Max Weber, Gaston Lachaise and Elie Nadelman, who all came from Europe before World War I, as well as expatriate John Storrs, defined innovative and eccentric concept of American sculpture before 1940. Both Storrs and Weber worked in a nonobjective language. “Figure in Rotation,” 1917, depicts Weber’s renewed interest in African sculpture, as well as the Cubist work of Picasso and Braque. Lachise’s erotic treatment of the figure, exaggerated proportions and his obsession with mass are exemplified by “Dancing Nude,” 1928.
Elie Nadelman was also influenced by American culture, more specifically folk art, which he superimposed upon his classical imagery. Nadelman is represented by “High Kicker,” circa 1920-1924, in “Cast & Carved.” Isamu Noguchi’s untitled, 1943-49, is one among many examples of American artists defining themselves on their own terms.
Gerald Peters Gallery is open Monday-Saturday, from 10 am to 5 pm. For information, www.gpgallery.com or 212-628-9760.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
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