Saturday, March 11, 2017

Six: Sculpture, Part One

This is the first of two lectures on women sculptors. We're going to cover 14 artists whose works may be seen in American museums.

Sculpture is a much more challenging form of art than painting.

While tribal cultures make wonderful carvings in wood, the tradition of Western European sculpture values the durability of marble and bronze.

Both marble and bronze are expensive materials and difficult to work, and making a sculpture  usually requires the assistance of highly skilled craftsmen.

Because of this, there is much less sculpture to study and compare—fewer sculptors, slower development of styles, less sculpture on exhibit at museums.

Outline History of Sculpture

Sculpture was the preferred art form for the Greeks, and they favored nude standing figures of "ideal" proportions.

The Romans developed realistic portrait busts, but they also copied the famous Greek works, and tried to apply similar aesthetic values to new statues.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, sculpture was exclusively for churches and depicted religious subjects. Sculptors were part of the interior-decoration team of craftsmen.

During the Renaissance, secular figure sculpture was revived, but it tended to defer to the standards and subjects set by the Greeks and Romans.

In the 1600s, as the European economy grew, there was more sculpture and it tended to be more flamboyant. This was the Baroque period.

In the 1700s, sculptors again looked back to Greek and Roman models. This was the Neo-Classical period.

Women do not enter the history of sculpture until the 1800s in the U. S. There are simply no records of women making sculpture that was known to the public until then, either American or European.

Here are some examples of works that would have been iconic when women first started becoming professional sculptors.

Greek

This sculpture was intended to show the ideal proportions of an Athenian athlete.

Polykleitos
Doryphoros (Spear-Bearer)
Roman copy in marble of bronze work from 400s BC
Naples / Internet

Roman

The Augustus of Prima Porta is based on the Doryphorus. Augustus was the first emperor of Rome.

Augustus of Prima Porta
Internet

Renaissance—1500s

This is the first free-standing nude sculpture since ancient times.

Donatello
David, 1430-1432
Bargello Palace / Internet

Michelangelo
David, 1504
Accademia, Florence / Internet


Baroque—1600s

Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Apollo and Daphne, 1622-1625
Galleria Borghese, Rome / Internet


Neo-Classical

Antonio Canova
Perseus with the Head of Medusa, 1804-1806
95" tall
Metropolitan / Internet


19th Century Sculpture

In the 19th century the market for sculpture expanded significantly in the U.S. As the economy grew, more institutions required official statues, and there developed a class of wealthy people with cultural aspirations who collected and commissioned sculptures for their homes.

Sculptors generally modeled their works in clay first, and translated them into marble only when they received a commission. Sculptors' studios also served as showrooms where clients could see various clay or plaster models, called maquettes, and they could order a their own version in marble or bronze. To fill out their product line, sculptors also did portrait busts and medallions.

Rome was the center of the sculpture world because high quality marble was readily available, as well as stonemasons with centuries of experience. American sculptors would go there to train, and then set up their own studios for their careers. They were part of a large group ex-pat American artists and writers.

Another advantage of Rome was that everyone who could travel made it a destination. Many wealthy tourists stopped by the studios of sculptors—which were actually listed in tourist guides—and purchased or commissioned a sculpture, selecting from a display of maquettes. It was sort of a fad among a certain class of people.

In the 19th century, the dominant style of sculpture was Neo-classicism. Sculptors looked back to the sculpture of Greece and Rome and emulated their idealized proportions, their balanced compositions, and their mythological references.

Typical of male sculptors at the time are Hiram Powers and William Wetmore Story. Here are examples of their works.

Hiram Powers
California
Internet

Hiram Powers
Fisher Boy
Internet

Hiram Powers
America
Internet
William Wetmore Story
Libyan Sibyl, modeled 1861, carved 1868
Internet

William Wetmore Story
Orpheus with his Lyre
Internet

American Women of 19th Century Sculpture

In the 19th century, the U. S. economy and social philosophy had developed sufficiently that there was a class of wealthy and educated women who began to think and write about a woman's role in society, and specifically to suggest that the traditional role could be escaped and a woman could live as independently as a man.

Some women had sufficient financial independence that they dared to avoid marriage, so that their activities could be self-determined.

There came to be a class of women who rejected marriage, while engaging in a busy social life with other women. Intense friendships formed among the women, and in some cases these developed into romances.

Some of these independent women began to aspire to be professional artists, and to achieve the same excellence as the great sculptors they admired.

A cluster of American women sculptors was attracted to Rome and formed an active and nurturing community there. In Rome, women felt free to be open about their romances, as well as to dress and act in unconventional ways. They were far away from their families, and the Romans didn't care about them because they were outsiders.

Unfinished portrait
Charlotte Cushman
by Thomas Sully
The catalyst for the women's sculpture community in Rome was an actress named Charlotte Cushman. She was a highly celebrated performer in the U.S., especially noted for playing mens' roles, a common practice at the time.

When she retired from the stage (at the age of 36), she went to Rome, where she set up housekeeping with her current romantic partner, a successful writer named Matilda Hays, and others.

Charlotte had recently discovered the work of sculptor Harriet Hosmer, and she invited Harriet to join them, which she did in 1853. Charlotte used her active social life to promote the young artist.

In 1857 they were joined by an older sculptor, Emma Stebbins, who soon became romantically involved with Charlotte. As with Harriet, Charlotte promoted Emma's career.

In 1865 they were joined by Edmonia Lewis, an African-American sculptor who also had Native American heritage. She too enjoyed Charlotte's patronage.

Here is a closer examination of the biographies and work of these three sculptors.

Harriet Hosmer was the first woman sculptor to become a success in America.

Her peak period was the 1850s and 1860s.

She created marble sculpture in the dominant Neo-classical style that favored idealized figures and mythological or literary references.

Many of her sculptures depict women, both fictional and historical, who had been victimized sexually and abandoned by society.

She lived and worked in Rome.

Harriet lived a liberated lesbian lifestyle in Rome and was an ardent feminist.


1815-1882: Emma Stebbins

Emma Stebbins was among the first women to become successful sculptors in America.

She produced her most famous works between 1859 and 1869.

Emma worked in marble but her style was more realistic than Neo-classical. She was the first sculptor to depict contemporary subjects such as ordinary workmen.

For large commemorative works Emma created statues in bronze.

She spent her short career in Rome, then returned to the U.S.

Her most important relationship was with Charlotte Cushman, a famous American actress who was the center of the expat group of artists and writers in Rome.


1845-1911: Edmonia Lewis

Edmonia Lewis was the first African-American to be a successful sculptor. Her heritage was also part Native American.

Though she came from a disadvantaged background, Edmonia had a first class education, financed by her brother, who made his fortune as a barber in Bozeman, Montana.

She was part of the group of women sculptors who worked in marble and made their careers in Rome.

Edmonia applied the Neo-classical style to figures that represented her heritage. Sometimes she depicted Native American characters, and other times she depicted characters who represented African women.

Her peak period of productivity was the late 1860s and the 1870s.


Early 20th Century


In the first half of the 20th Century, the scene changed for American women sculptors. Instead of moving to Rome and working in marble, they stayed home and switched to bronze.

Instead of modeling in an idealized manner, they tended to be more naturalistic.

Instead of competing for large public commissions, they tended to specialize in small-scale sculptures for use in interior decoration.

Instead of banding together in same-sex communities, the sculptors pursued separate lives and conventional relationships. Frequently their careers were supported by their wealthy family connections.

The most prominent of these women was Anna Hyatt Huntington, who rose to fame as an animal sculptor and went on to excel at equestrian statues for public venues.

1876-1973: Anna Hyatt Huntington

Anna was the most prominent woman sculptor of the first half of the 20th century.

She first achieved fame as an animal sculptor, then progressed to heroic equestrian statues.

Anna Hyatt married Archer Huntington, an art scholar and philanthropist.

They established a sculpture garden in South Carolina called Brookgreen.

Anna adamantly rejected modernism.

Two of her works may be seen in front of the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco. Anna was a member of the Legion.



2nd Half of 20th Century

In the second half of the 20th Century, sculpture in America changed dramatically for women.

The art scene was much more sophisticated, and it gradually became more internationalized. European women began to migrate to the United States, and U.S. museums began to show works by the most famous European women.

Instead of modestly hoping to make a living with decorative works, women began to compete like men to create aesthetic innovations that would knock the art world off its feet.

The result was a sudden jump from naturalism to abstraction—taking pleasure in the invention of abstract forms for their own sake and for their suggestive possibilities.

Abstract sculpture is an art form where the innovative developments were shared equally by women and men. No longer were women merely followers; they were in the advance guard. While male artists are generally favored by museums, curators could not deny the power of abstract sculpture by women, and all of the following women are shown frequently.

Several men made abstract sculptures in the mid-20th century. Two of the best were Henry Moore, a British sculptor, and Isamu Noguchi, an American sculptor who was raised in Japan. Here are examples of their work.


Henry Moore, 1898-1986
Working Model for ‘Oval with Points,’ 1969
SFMOMA / Jan's photo, 2016

Isamu Noguchi, 1904-1988
Samothrace, 
1984
SFMOMA / Jan's photo, 2016

Isamu Noguchi, 1904-1988
Cronos, 1947-1964
SFMOMA / Jan's photo, 2016

Abstraction:

Several women pursued pure abstraction in sculpture.

1899-1988: Louise Nevelson

Louise was one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century.

Her sculptures were flat, abstract compositions of scrap wood, painted a single color, usually black, but sometimes white or gold. 

Most of Louise's works were designed to be hung on a wall like a painting. Her free-standing compositions also tended to be flat and wall-like.

For outdoor sculpture, Louise worked in metal.

The most successful phase of her career started in the 1960s and continued through the 1980s.

Louise was born in Ukraine but her family came to the U.S. when she was 6 years old. 


1903-1975: Barbara Hepworth

Barbara was among the first sculptors in England to create abstract forms in stone.

She used direct carving technique, instead of working from a maquette modeled in clay.

She was a leading figured in the international art scene throughout her career, peaking in the 1950s.

Her work is exhibited by many American museums.


No comments:

Post a Comment