The Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York, NY



Subjects and Symbols in American Sculpture: Selections from the Permanent Collection

April 11-August 20, 2000


Nineteenth-century American artists regarded "ideal themes" - those inspired by mythology, history, and literature - as the most challenging and venerable in the hierarchy of genres. Such subjects provided an opportunity for sculptors to demonstrate their familiarity with allegorical, historical, and literary topics, their skill at incorporating identifying attributes into their compositions, and frequently also their expertise in rendering the nude.

Beginning April 11, The Metropolitan Museum of Art will present Subjects and Symbols in American Sculpture: Selections from the Permanent Collection, an exhibition of some 35 works inspired by ideal themes and created between 1850 and 1935. Drawn entirely from the Museum's extensive holdings of American art, the exhibition will include sculptures in bronze, marble, and plaster by such esteemed and diverse artists as Hiram Powers, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and Paul Manship.

American sculpture experienced enormous stylistic and technical developments between the middle of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, as will be evidenced by such works as the marble bust America (1850-54; Metropolitan Museum version, after 1854) by Hiram Powers and the cast iron Head of Orpheus (ca. 1935-36) by Carl Milles. Sculpture that illustrates changing tastes in America - from Harriet Hosmer's austere marble bust of Daphne (1853; this version, 1854) to Manship's dramatic bronze statuette, Centaur and Dryad (1913) - will also be shown. Relief sculpture - an art form that was revived during the mid-19th century - will be represented by several examples, including Erastus Dow Palmer's Sappho (1855; this version, 1861) and Edward Sheffield Bartholomew's Blind Homer Led by the Genius of Poetry (1851), two Neoclassical marbles that depict well-known literary figures from ancient Greece.

left to right: All photographs by Jerry L. Thompson: Edward Sheffield Bartholomew (1822-1858), Blind Homer Led by the Genius of Poetry, 1851, Marble, 29 3/4 x 20 3/8 inches (75.6 x 51.8 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Morris K. Jesup Fund, and Gift of William Nelson, by exchange, 1996 (1996.74); Augustus Saint-Gaudens (l848-1907), Diana, 1893-94; this cast 1894 or after, Bronze, 28 1/4 x 16 1/4 x 14 inches (71.8 x 41.3 x 35.6 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Lincoln Kirstein, 1985 (1985.353); Adolph Alexander Weinman (1870-1952), Descending Night, ca. 1914; this cast, by 1917, Bronze, 26 x 22 1/4 x 11 inches (66 x 56.5 x 27.9 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Morris K. Jesup Fund, 1994 (1994.501); Paul Manship (1885-1966), Centaur and Dryad, 1913, Bronze, 27 3/4 x 21 1/4 x 11 1/8 inches (70.5 x 54 x 28.3 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Amelia B. Lazarus Fund, 1914 (14.61)

A highlight of the exhibition will be a case study of the theme of Diana, the Roman goddess of the moon and of the hunt, which draws on examples in the Museum's collection by Olin Levi Warner, Frederick W. MacMonnies, Karl Bitter, Edward McCarten, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Sculptural personifications of temporal subjects - such as the seasons, the times of day, and the stages of life - will include William Henry Rinehart's elegant marble relief Spring (1856; this version, 1874), in which a young woman in flowing drapery scatters a spray of flowers, and Adolph Alexander Weinman's Descending Night (ca. 1914; this cast, by 1917), in which a female nude in a sinuous, asymmetrical pose, stands on a base decorated with a low-relief crescent moon and a pattern of stars.

The exhibition is organized by Thayer Tolles, Assistant Curator, American Paintings and Sculpture.

Read more about the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

rev. 1/15/11

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