Published: December 28, 2004
The Clark Art Institute has purchased a bronze sculpture by the English artist Sir Alfred Gilbert, 1854-1934. The sculpture “Comedy and Tragedy: ‘Sic Vita,'” modeled in 1891-92 and case in 1902 to 1905, was approved by the Clark’s board of trustees at its meeting this past weekend.
“This bronze is one of the most celebrated works by Gilbert and an important example of the New Sculpture movement in late Nineteenth Century England,” said Michael Conforti, director of the Clark. “It beautifully extends our holdings of academic paintings and sculpture, with a classical theme reflecting the subject matter of many beloved works in our collection.”
Gilbert was a leading proponent of the New Sculpture movement, which combined close observations of natural forms with the idealism of classical and Renaissance prototypes. “Comedy and Tragedy” depicts a young Greek stagehand who carries a mask of comedy at the moment he is tragically stung by a bee. The Latin subtitle, “Sic Vita,” means “Thus is life.”
The viewers’ perception of the bronze changes dramatically depending on the angle of viewing. “Like Gilbert’s other allegorical male nudes, ‘Comedy and Tragedy’ is the best seen in the round,” noted Richard Rand, senior curator of paintings and sculpture. “From one perspective, the boy seems to smile, echoing the expression of the comedy mask. From another, he is clearly grimacing in pain, his own face the mask of tragedy.”
Gilbert one wrote about the sculpture, “The symbol is in fact reality. I was stung by that bee, typified by my love for my art, a consciousness of its incompleteness; my love was not sufficient.”
The Clark also acquired the terra-cotta sculpture “Girard le Plemeu de Brères,” 1884, by French artist Jean-Eugène Baffier, 1851-1920. The sculpture in the romantic realist style depicts a peasant patriarch from the artist’s rendition of Berrichon folk tales.
Both works are not on view in the Clark’s galleries. The Clark Art Institute is at 225 South Street. The galleries are open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm. For information, 413-458-2303 or ClarkArt.edu.
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