Monthly Archives: April 2009

Malvina Hoffman

hoffman_zarxkalaMalvina Cornell Hoffman (1885-1966) studied with Rodin from 1910 until his death in 1917, and is perhaps best known for her monumental bronze series, “The Races of Mankind,” commissioned in 1930 by Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History.

Hoffman’s commission from the Field Museum sent the sculptor on a world tour for more than eight months. She produced a total of 104 monumental bronze figures, which  were  unveiled at the opening of the Field Museum’s Hall of Man on June 6, 1933.

Hoffman first won acclaim for her bronze sculpture of Russian dancer Anna Pavlova, and also studied with Gutzon Borgium of Mount Rushmore fame. Her first major sculpture was “The Sacrifice,” a massive memorial to Harvard University’s war dead. In 1925, Hoffman unveiled her most significant architectural sculpture, “To the Friendship of the English Speaking People,” at Bush House in London. Unflappable Londoners were startled by the sight of Hoffman clambering over her massive statuary putting finishing touches on the work.

Surprising Sarah Bernhardt

bernhardt_sphinx1I was at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, this weekend and in the European art galleries, my friend Lisa Graf drew my attention to this large goth inkwell, a self-portrait by none other than Sarah Bernhardt.

Who knew that the iconic actress was also a sculptor? This surprising, fantastical, self-portrait-as-inkwell has the body of a griffon, wings of a bat, and tail of a fish.

According to the MFA’s online collections information: “The mysterious image of the artist as a sphinx seems to be a metaphor for her ability to transform herself, both on stage and off. The … combination of natural forms is related to contemporary Art Nouveau jewelry and ornamentation as well as to the imagery and techniques of sixteenth-century Mannerist bronzes. Her profession as actress is depicted by Tragic and Comic masks as epaulettes on her shoulders.”

Inscriptions: Marked: Sarah Bernhardt on right base; 1880 on right base. Founder Mark: THIEBAUT FRERES/FONDEURS/PARIS.

Editions and Bronze

apple and mold courtesy of Wikipedia

apple and mold courtesy of Wikipedia

A quick primer on bronze casting and foundry editions…
Traditionally sculpture has been produced either as a single piece or in  small editions (multiples cast from one mold). A single piece is usually referred to as “unique”–there may be no mold, or the piece may have fabricated parts which are not possible to reproduce in an edition.

Bronze casting, one of the oldest methods of reproduction, has remained essentially unchanged since the Renaissance. A mold made out of rubber, plaster, or other material is used to produce a  wax positive (see the apple in the photo), which then has wax rods attached to it which will act as channels for the molten bronze. The wax is then covered with a refractory slurry which hardens into a kind of shell, or else fine sand. This is kiln-dried to burn out the wax. Molten bronze is then poured into the wax cavity. Imperfections in the casting are hand-finished (this is called chasing). Finally the patina, a multi-layered chemical process which affects the color of the finished bronze, is applied, and the piece is waxed. Bronzes that will be displayed outdoors are given an acrylic coating before being waxed.

Sculptors normally make relatively small editions of their work (say, 6 or 12 or 24) because this is all they feel they can sell. Larger commercial foundries may cast work in editions of dozens, or hundreds, and the price per sculpture should decrease accordingly. Sculpture edition numbers are noted the same as print edition numbers, with 1/12 being the first of a planned edition of twelve, 2/12 being the second, etc.

A sculptor is entitled to make one or more “artist’s proofs” of a bronze piece that is not part of the numbered edition. I like to keep proofs in my studio to show prospective clients, or just because I like having them around. At some point, when all of an edition is sold, I literally break the mold so no more can be made.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

William F. Cody memorial

William F. Cody memorial

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875–1942) was an American sculptor, art patron and collector, and founder in 1931 of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. She was a prominent social figure and hostess, who was born into the  Vanderbilt family and married into the Whitney family.
While visiting Europe in the early 1900s, Gertrude Whitney discovered the burgeoning art world of Montmartre and Montparnasse in France. What she saw encouraged her to pursue her creativity and become a sculptor.

She studied at the Art Students League of New York and then with Auguste Rodin in Paris. Eventually, she maintained art studios in Greenwich Village and in Passy, a fashionable Parisian neighborhood in the XVI arrondissement.

Her great wealth afforded her the opportunity to become a patron of the arts, but she also devoted herself to the advancement of women in art. She was the primary financial backer for the “International Composer’s Guild,” an organization created to promote the performance of modern music. Then, in one of the many Manhattan properties she and her husband owned, Gertrude Whitney in 1914 established the Whitney Studio Club  (8 West 8th Street in Greenwich Village) as a facility where young artists could exhibit their works. The place would evolve to become her greatest legacy, the Whitney Museum of American Art, founded in 1931 after the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art turned down her offer to contribute her collection.

Harriet Whitney Frishmuth

the-vineHarriet Whitney Frishmuth (1880–1980) was an American sculptor known for her work in bronze.

Frishmuth studied briefly with Rodin at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, for two years with Euchtriz in Berlin, and at the Art Students League of New York under Gutzon Borglum and Hermon Atkins MacNeil. While in New York she worked as an assistant to the sculptor Karl Bitter and performed dissections at the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Her first commissioned piece was a bas relief for the New York County Medical Society. She also modeled small figures for Gorham; these early pieces are highly sought after by collectors. Her career grew steadily and she became known for her bronze sculptures of women, particularly dancers (Desha Delteil frequently modeled for her).

Her work was exhibited at the National Academy of Design, the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, the Salon in Paris, the Golden Gate International Exposition (1939–1940) and the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. One of her last exhibits was in New York City in 1929; although she remained active in the art world for decades afterwards, the Great Depression affected her livelihood and she closed her New York studio in the 1930s and returned to Philadelphia. She died in Connecticut in 1980, at the age of 99.

“The Vine” (1923), a larger-than-life-size bronze considered one of her finest pieces, is in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.