« PreviousContinue »
legs, and the head, while presenting a certain variance to the popularly conceived Shakespearian type, has points of resemblance in common with the bust at Stratford, which from critical examination MacMonnies believes to be a cast from nature, retouched in the parts which the cast would not give, the eyes and flexible portions of the face, by some sculptor of Shakespeare's time. For the bony portions of the head, therefore, MacMonnies has followed the bust, and for other portions the Droeshout portrait to which Jonson gave his approval in the well-known lines. In the absence of any more exact representation of the poet's appearance these documents, consulted from this point of view, constitute, when used as the sculptor has apparently used them, with intelligent discrimination, the best possible authority, and the whole work produces an impression of reality which is convincing. Altogether it is conceived on a much more humanistic and thoughtful plane than any preceding work, and may well mark, in the artistic growth of the young sculptor, the first step (which has taken him far) toward a graver, more soberly conceived sculpture than his youth and ardent delight in execution have allowed him heretofore to conceive. Mention must be made en passant of the work which, together with the execution of the Indianapolis Army and Navy groups, occupies the sculptor at this time. In his studio in the rue de Sèvres in Paris, where all his work has been executed, are being made the models for a bronze quadriga which on a colossal scale is to decorate the top of the Soldiers and Sailors' Memorial Arch in Brooklyn. This, together with a bronze figure of "Victory" [Page 618] for the battle monument at West Point, closes the long list of work accomplished and is of a character with which the young sculptor has abundantly proved himself able to cope. It is impossible even now, when in point of time MacMonnies is hardly more than on the threshold of his career, to refuse to one who has accomplished so much and has won such recognition at home and abroad the title of master, and yet it can be fancied that the sculptor would be the first to reject any such assumption.
The nervous force which is behind all the apparent exuberance of his work is not likely to sit down en route and placidly savor the fruits of early success. It is far more likely to serve as an incentive to put by each accomplished work and seek in fresh fields new problems; and with changing ideals, as years bring the burden which they always bring and the compensating depth of perception which is granted to serious minds, we can fairly look for works which both in the accrued surety of execution and the seriously consid ered conception will assure MacMonnies a place among the few great masters of the age. Leaving all that is problematic in such a forecast we can for work already accomplished regard MacMonnies as a most happy exponent of the happy conjunction of capacity, opportunity, and youth. Given his undeniable gifts, granted the fervor of ambitious youth, he is yet fortunate to come upon the scene when our civil war has left great deeds to perpetuate, when the people of these States have relaxed their toil to look about them and seek to beautify their surroundings.
In so far as we have done anything of importance in the fine arts, we have followed the traditions which have governed every movement of like character in the past. With lands to reclaim and render habitable, with a form of government which if inspired was nevertheless experimental, it is small wonder that the rude forefathers of our country had little time and less thought to devote to æsthetic questions. "I would have you know, young man, that Boston is not Athens," was the form of encouragement which Trumbull is said to have received from his father when proposing to follow the career of an artist. When we finally halted for a moment about the time that we had completed our first century, our natural impulse was to add beauty to the comfort of our homes, and the architectural achievement of the subsequent period up to the present is notable. To the practical mind, undoubtedly, the objective character of this "mother of arts" appealed, giving as it does a solid evidence in stone and brick of the effort made and the money spent. Sculpture
had its turn next in the many memorials inspired by the civil war. Rising from and returning to the midst of our people our army claimed a just recognition, and of all our towns none were so poor as to deny reverence to the memory of the townsmen fallen in battle or risen to eminence in its ranks. A wiser judgment or a greater knowledge of the possibilities of art would have undoubtedly dictated modest memorial tablets, minor works in stained glass, or mosaic in churches or townhalls, in place of the abortive attempts at soldiers' monuments which disfigure our smaller towns, but where the population was greater and where a larger amount of money could be devoted to the work, the results have been correspondingly better. This popular demand for sculpture, not so much for itself as for the memories it embalms, has been of great value in developing the talent of some of our foremost men, and as an added factor in the encouragement of the art it has become the custom within a very few years of adorning buildings not only of a public character but the great business edifices with sculptured work of a decorative character. In tasks dictated by one or the other of these demands MacMonnies has found employment, and the work achieved, both in quality and quantity, emphasizes the value of opportunity. It would seem as though the whole future of art in this country depends on a solution of the question of supply and demand. It is certain that we can never have the benefits which a different system of government has given to French art, and from the temper of our national mind the artist can never prove his right of existence until some public necessity calls him into active production. Painting, for instance, has with us as yet no status comparable with that of architecture and sculpture, and only exists as an adjunct of luxury which ministers to few, and this condition bids fair to continue until the day when it also may be found useful, to register historical events and, in the form of decorative painting, preserve memories of our past or symbolize the future of our national life.
Mention has been made of the great
numbers of works of sculpture which have been erected in the past twentyfive years, and though, as was to be expected, there are few masterpieces to be counted among them, no better general criticism can be made than that they lack as a rule imagination and decorative quality. The modern man clothed in his habit as he lives is not particu larly decorative, and hence it has been questioned if it would not be better in a majority of cases to make a monument symbolizing the deeds done, the work accomplished, rather than a presentment of the man. With most of his work MacMonnies has not been called upon to decide this question, as of his four portrait statues three are in a costume which lends itself more readily to decorative treatment than our modern dress. Of the fourth, a simple citizen, he has made a work which is modern to the last degree. The statue of J. S. T. Stranahan, which the gratitude of his fellow-citizens of Brooklyn decreed should be erected during his life, shows the subject standing, an overcoat thrown across his arm, with cane and gloves grasped in his left hand and the high hat of civ ilization in his right. Such will the statue appear two hundred years hence, an uncompromising portrayal of the man of our time, but whether it is the touch of high benevolence which MacMonnies has succeeded in imparting to the head, or the cleverly adjusted mass of the overcoat on the left arm, it is distinctly sculptural and a work of imagination, as was the Lincoln of St. Gaudens with even fewer adjuncts to give it mass and weight. Hence it be concluded that such a question is rather one of the man than of his methods, especially as with different material MacMonnies has given us in his Nathan Hale another work of art by treatment where imagination plays the greater and observation the lesser part. The Hale has been criticised as being over-picturesque, presumably by those to whom a dash of romance disfigures a page of history. When we consider, however, that no portrait of Hale exists, and that the task allotted MacMonnies might well mean to one of imagination an embodiment in a
single figure of the spirit of the youth who, having but one life to give to his country, gave it gladly, the emphasis laid on the spiritual character of the work seems fitting. It is, by the manner in which the feet are shackled, by the suggestive rope, a figure which might well cause the passing child to stop, and there receive, perhaps for the first time, an object lesson in history. The consideration of such prolific accomplishment as that of MacMonnies, if taken seriatim, would far exceed the limits of these pages, and fortunately the moment has not arrived when a conclusive judgment may be formed. In the heat and fervor of production, with work which reaches as high a plane as his, it is but fair to reserve all classification until the last word of progress has been spoken and the definite form of expression adopted. It is evident that with the fair fields of art open before him such definite expression is yet far distant with MacMonnies, but it may be said that so far in his career he has worked wisely and well, so well that at
Cupid on Ball.
(Study for a statuette.)
thirty-two he has already behind him a past which augurs happily for his future.