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Project from Spring 2017: Auguste Rodin, The Thinker

The following post was written by Tanya Moe, a student in the “Public Outdoor Sculpture at Columbia and Barnard” undergraduate seminar in Spring 2017. This excerpt from her research paper discusses what is arguably Columbia’s most easily identifiable public sculpture on campus and how it came to be installed outside Philosophy Hall in 1931.

 

Auguste Rodin, The Thinker (Le Penseur)

Written by Tanya Moe; edited by Roberto C. Ferrari

 

Columbia University’s relationship with its most famous sculpture The Thinker (Le Penseur), by the artist Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), began in the late 1920s under the administration of Nicholas Murray Butler, who was President of Columbia for 44 years. Under Butler’s leadership the campus was expanded and enrollment increased. He elevated the school’s reputation to make it one of the leading higher-educational institutions in the world.[1] Alongside Butler’s many feats of bolstering of the university’s educational programs was the commissioning of a cast of Rodin’s Thinker.

The acquisition of the statue took about two years. The earliest letters in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library document that the process began in 1929. Butler’s decision to acquire the statue was part of a movement “to beautify and to adorn the grounds at Morningside and to give them a more attractive and impressive appearance than they now have.”[2] During discussions, two locations were suggested for The Thinker: in front of Kent Hall; or, outside Philosophy Hall. In a letter to Henry Lee Norris, the Director of Works at Columbia, Butler expressed his preference for the latter location of the two: “The effectiveness of the statue in front of the School of Mines is so fine that I should not like to have anything less good for Philosophy Hall.”[3]

The statue outside the School of Mines that Butler referred to was The Hammersmith (Le Marteleur), designed in 1884 by the Belgian artist Constantin Meunier.  Columbia’s cast was commissioned by the School of Mines (now Engineering) Class of 1889 and installed on campus in 1914 outside their building, now known as Lewisohn Hall. Meunier’s works elevate the image of the industrial worker into an icon of modernity, as demonstrated in the strong pose of Le Marteleur, making it an appropriate representation of the School of Mines and its programs in mining and engineering. The sculpture was later moved outside the new Engineering building on the northeast corner of campus.

Following the symbolic relationship between buildings and statues, it is understandable why Butler preferred the contemplative Thinker to stand outside Philosophy Hall. In a meeting of the Committee on Buildings and Grounds in 1930, Butler again put forward an argument for the statue to be placed in front of Philosophy Hall. In another letter to Norris, he wrote:

This preference rests on two considerations: first, that the statue Le Penseur is most appropriately placed in front of a building which bears the name “Philosophy,” and, second, that in that place it will balance the impressive statue “Le Marteleur” on the other side of the quadrangle in front of the School of Mines.[4]

In another letter, Butler bolstered his argument by stating further, “We should then have two of the masterpieces of the two greatest modern sculptors on our Quadrangle.”[5] Unfortunately, the lawn in front of Philosophy was already occupied by the Venetian well-head, which had been presented as a memorial of the Class of 1887. This issue was addressed with a resolution by Butler as such:

If we should put the well-head which is now in front of Philosophy at the middle point of this quadrangle, might it not serve as a motif for some architectural and landscaping development, not too costly, of a character that would make the quadrangle itself very attractive and serve as a model of what we should like to do throughout the grounds?[6]

This quadrangle was the space bounded by the Chapel on the south, Fayerweather on the east, Schermerhorn on the north, and Avery on the west. Norris (Director of Works) and William M. Kendall (an architect at the firm McKim, Mead & White) both agreed with Butler’s suggestion and the well-head was moved.

In June 1930, Butler ordered the replica of Rodin’s statue after having visited the Musée Rodin in Paris. He suggested the pedestal be shorter than the one at the museum, as it was “in [his] judgment, too high.”[7] Butler expected the statue to arrive before August 1st, but he was soon informed that “the authorities of the Rodin Museum wish Columbia University to have an entirely new copy of the statue.”[8] Thus, a new statue was cast by Alexis Rudier, from the Rudier Foundry, where many of Rodin’s bronzes were cast. This new statue delayed plans for installation by around six months, but The Thinker was eventually installed in early 1931 in front of Philosophy Hall to balance with The Hammersmith outside the School of Mines.

NOTES

[1] “Nicholas Murray Butler,” Columbia University,  http://c250.columbia.edu/c250_celebrates/remarkable_columbians/nicholas_butler.html

[2] Nicholas Murray Butler, Letter to Edward H. Kendall, Feb. 26, 1930, Nicholas Murray Butler Papers, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University. (The letters  below come from the same archive.)

[3] Nicholas Murray Butler, Letter to Henry Lee Norris, Aug. 1, 1929.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Nicholas Murray Butler, Letter to William M. Kendall, Jun. 2, 1930.

[6] Nicholas Murray Butler, Letter to Edward H. Kendall, Feb. 26, 1930.

[7] Nicholas Murray Butler, Letter to William M. Kendall, Jun. 2, 1930.

[8] Nicholas Murray Butler, Letter to Henry Lee Norris, Jul. 1, 1930.

 

Henry Moore, Reclining Figure, 1969-70

It’s been nine months since Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure, 1969-70, was installed on the Morningside campus on the lawn outside Havemeyer and Mathematics Halls. The response has been so positive since the installation last December. The statue’s new home in a green space likely would have pleased Moore, who preferred that his sculpture was viewed surrounded by nature. To read more about the sculpture and to see a video of the dedication ceremony thanking David and Laura Finn for their generous gift, go to http://news.columbia.edu/Henry-Moore-Sculpture-Joins-Public-Art-Collection-on-Columbia-Morningside-Campus.

New Public Outdoor Sculpture by Henry Moore…Coming Soon!

image-correctedcroppedColumbia University is honored to be the recipient of a significant donation of a public outdoor sculpture by Henry Moore (1898-1986), one of the most important British sculptors of the twentieth century. Preparation for the installation of Reclining Figure, which measures approximately 9 x 11 x 7 feet and is cast in bronze, will begin this week at the Morningside Campus on the central lawn near the entrance to Butler Library. The donation of this sculpture was accepted by the Committee on Art Properties and University administration over twenty years ago, with the permanent location approved more recently. The photograph seen above was taken in 2014 and shows the sculpture in its pre-conservation state. The donors, David and Laura Finn, were long-time friends of the sculptor. Mr. Finn is a fine-art photographer who has published numerous books on photographing sculpture, and is a co-founder of Ruder Finn Inc., the public relations agency. The Finns’ children are alumni of Columbia.

Early in his career, Henry Moore embraced abstraction through sculptural forms, but his works consistently call to mind figurative subjects. Columbia’s newest public outdoor sculpture, Reclining Figure, is meant to suggest the form of a woman with her legs outstretched before her, propping herself up with her forearm. This work was designed by Moore from 1969 to 1970 and subsequently cast in bronze by Hermann Noack in Berlin. Columbia’s cast is number 5 of 6, with repetitions of this important work on display in cities such as Hakone, Japan; Humlebaek, Denmark; and Tel Aviv, Israel.

Once installed onOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA campus, this sculpture will make Columbia only the second university in the United States, after M.I.T., to have on permanent display two public outdoor sculptures by Moore. Columbia’s other Moore sculpture, Three-Way Piece, No. 1: Points, located on Revson Plaza, was donated in 1967 by Miriam and Ira D. Wallach.

 

UPDATE (November 17, 2016): Following many months of discussion, University Administration, with the support of the donors, decided to change the location of this sculpture to the lawn just south of Havemeyer and east of Mathematics, where it will better harmonize with the natural environment, situated between two trees. The concrete base is now in place, and we are looking forward to installing and showcasing this remarkable sculpture by Moore in the coming weeks.

Meadmore’s Curl…Dismantling a Steel Sculpture

Here are a few recent photos, taken by Avery Library’s Registrar & Digital Content Librarian, showing the dismantling of Clement Meadmore’s Curl as it makes its way off-site to be conserved and returned later in the fall semester. To see even more great images, visit the Avery Library blog for images from Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 of the dismantling process. If you have your own images that you want to share with us, email them to artproperties@library.columbia.edu.

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Meadmore’s Curl…Conservation Begins Today

DSC_0257Conservation day has arrived! The Curl by Clement Meadmore, the large sculpture installed outside Uris Hall, is about to undergo a major conservation project. Those following the Public Outdoor Sculpture at Columbia blog may recall our previous posts about this work, including a video about its history and deteriorating condition over decades of exposure to NYC environmental conditions. In both of those posts we noted that a task force was exploring conservation options for this sculpture, and those plans are now in place.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, September 8 and 9, Conservation Solutions and their riggers will dismantle the sculpture, and on Thursday, September 10, the sculpture will be moved off-site so conservation work may begin. The sculpture will be reinstalled later in the fall semester, looking as good as it did when it arrived on campus nearly fifty years ago.

Among the more significant works of public outdoor sculpture on the Morningside Campus, the Curl by Clement Meadmore (1929-2005) was commissioned by Percy Uris (1899-1971), businessman and benefactor of the Columbia Business School. Meadmore received his training as a sculptor in Australia, and in the 1960s emigrated to the United States where he was influenced by Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and the improvisational sounds of jazz. Curl was the artist’s first commission for a large-scale public monument and in 1968 it was installed on the lawn of the new Business School building, which Uris had endowed. This sculpture made Meadmore’s international reputation, and he went on to receive numerous other commissions for public outdoor sculptures from universities, corporations, and cities around the world.

Meadmore began experimenting with Cor-Ten steel, at that time a new product, and he developed his signature fluid-like geometric sculptures that belie the industrial materiality of the metal from which they are made. The inherent nature of Cor-Ten steel is that it rusts, and in the oeuvre of artists such as Richard Serra this rust effect is seen as part of the sculpture’s aesthetic. Meadmore’s interest in painting his steel structures, however, gave them a more pure and streamlined appearance. Unfortunately, over time, the degradation of the paint in combination with the oxidating steel resulted in a number of structural issues. When the Curl conservation project is completed, the revitalized sculpture’s fissures and gaps will be repaired, the rust will have been removed, and a fresh uniform coat of paint will restore the beauty of this work similar to its origins as Meadmore intended.

Acknowledgments are due to everyone who has worked on bringing this project forward, including the Office of the Provost, the Meadmore conservation task force, the Columbia Business School, Columbia Facilities, and the Columbia University Libraries.

William Ordway Partridge and the Van Amringe Memorial

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe face of John Howard Van Amringe (1835-1915), with his fashionable low-hanging whiskers, is one of the most recognizable in Columbia’s visual history. Van Amringe graduated from Columbia College in 1860 and began teaching courses in mathematics that same year. Fifty years later in 1910, he retired as the much-esteemed Dean of Columbia College and Chair of the Mathematics Dept. He was soon commemorated with a series of portrait busts by alumnus sculptor William Ordway Partridge (1861-1930). Two replicas of this bust were commissioned in bronze in 1912 and 1913 and were installed respectively in Hamilton Hall and the Columbia Club. A third, cast in 1922, was destined for the eponymous tempietto-styled pavilion that still exists outside Hartley and Wallach (formerly Livingston) Halls.

The Columbia Spectator reported on September 27, 1917, that work on the Van Amringe Memorial was underway and expected to be completed the following month. They described its design as “a circular structure containing a bust of Dean Van Amringe . . . . The quadrangle bounded by the double row of linden trees will be planted with shrubbery and evergreens to set off the monument to the best advantage.” The approved plan for the structure was described as “a stone building of classic design, consisting of a raised platform which will be a base for ten columns surmounted by a dome. It will be twenty-three feet in diameter and twenty-five feet in height.” (p. 4)

Subsequent articles reported on the need for further funding to complete the project, and the memorial was completed over the next few years. Finally, in June 1922 on Commencement Day, the third bronze bust by Partridge was installed on a marble pedestal designed by the architects McKim, Mead, and White. Inscribed on the ground around the pedestal was the following: “JOHN HOWARD VAN AMRINGE, 1835–1915 / OF THE CLASS OF 1860 / DEAN OF COLUMBIA MANY A DAY. / THE LIGHT HE LEAVES BEHIND HIM / LIES UPON THE PATHS OF MEN.”

On June 8, 1962, vandals reportedly toppled the bust off the pedestal and caused extensive damage. The bust was either repaired or replaced, and reinstalled in December of that year. In Fall 1987 the memorial underwent conservation efforts to refurbish the pavilion structure. Built to commemorate one of Columbia’s most important administrators, the Van Amringe Memorial and Quadrangle remains today one of the most popular areas for outdoor study and socializing on the grounds of the Morningside campus.

To read the Columbia Spectator in digital format, consult the Columbia University Libraries’ Digital Collections, or go to http://spectatorarchive.library.columbia.edu/.

Image: William Ordway Partridge, John Howard Van Amringe as installed in the Van Amringe Memorial, designed 1912, cast and installed in 1922, bronze on a marble pedestal, H. bust: 33 in. (83.8 cm), University Commission (C00.1254). Photograph: Michael J. Munro, Art Properties, Avery Library, Columbia University.

Kees Verkade and Tightrope Walker

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACrossing the sky bridge over Amsterdam Ave. and walking toward Columbia University’s Law School, visitors quickly see a towering bronze sculpture depicting two tightrope walkers, one balancing atop the other’s shoulders. Created as a tribute to General William J. (“Wild Bill”) Donovan, a graduate of Columbia College and Columbia Law School, Tightrope Walker was created by the Dutch artist Kees Verkade and installed on Revson Plaza in 1979.

Born in 1883, Gen. Donovan came to prominence as the commander of New York’s “Fighting 69th” regiment in the First World War. He became the only soldier who fought in that war to receive the four highest awards: the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the National Security Medal. During World War II, Gen. Donovan served as the wartime head of the Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. He died in 1959 and, ten years later, a group of the General’s associates and friends began fundraising to create a memorial to commemorate him, to be located on Columbia University’s Morningside campus.

The sculptor Verkade was born in Haarlem, The Netherlands, in 1941. He trained as a sculptor from the age of sixteen, when he enrolled at the Royal Academy in The Hague. During his five years of training, Verkade was introduced to the details of bronze casting, a medium that would define his future work. By 1970, his art had gained international attention when an article about him appeared in Time magazine. Soon afterward, in 1973, he was commissioned to design the sculpture honoring Gen. Donovan. In preparation for the memorial, Verkade watched archival films of the General and interviewed people who had known him in order to become more familiar with the man. In choosing to depict two tightrope walkers, one balancing upon the shoulders of the other, Verkade wanted to display the courage and controlled daring of Gen. Donovan.

The bronze sculpture, installed on Columbia University’s Revson Plaza, weighs 842 pounds and stands 14 ft. 3 in. tall, not including its plinth, which makes the monumental sculpture reach a height of 21 ft.

Verkade is also famous for his bust of Princess Grace of Monaco, an example of which is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. To learn more about Verkade, go to http://www.keesverkade.com/en.

— Michael J. Munro (GSAPP, Historic Preservation), Art Properties student assistant

Image: Kees Verkade, Tightrope Walker, commissioned in 1973, installed in 1979, bronze on marble plinth, H. 21 ft. (6.4 m), Gift of the Friends of General William J. Donovan (1979.5.5). Photograph: Michael J. Munro, Art Properties, Avery Library, Columbia University

Public Sculpture, November 2014

Here are a few new photos of the some of the public outdoor sculptures on the Morningside campus, taken by Art Properties student assistant Michael J. Munro (GSAPP, Historic Preservation). If you want to send us your photos and possibly see them on the blog, email us at artproperties@library.columbia.edu.

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Kees Verdake, “Tight Rope Walker,” 1973-79, Revson Plaza

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David Bakalar, “Life Force,” 1988-92, Revson Plaza

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Auguste Rodin, “The Thinker,” 1880-82, cast 1930, outside Philosophy Hall

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William Ordway Partridge, “John Howard Van Amringe,” 1920, Van Amringe Plaza

 

Conserving Jefferson, Hamilton, and the Thinker

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you are strolling around the Morningside campus this week and next week, you will notice people working in the hot sun treating three bronze sculptures: William Ordway Partridge’s two statues of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, and Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker. Conservation Solutions has been contracted to clean, treat, patinate, and rewax these statues and their pedestals, to freshen them up and stabilize the condition of each sculpture.

Since the statue of Jefferson outside the School of Journalism is celebrating his 100th birthday this year, this seemed like a great opportunity to give him a “facelift.” Similarly, Jefferson’s partner Hamilton, installed in 1908 outside Hamilton Hall, needed cleaning and treatment. Unfortunately, the Rodin sculpture recently had been vandalized, someone having brushed and sprayed gold paint onto parts of the statue, so it too needed treatment to remove the paint and restore the statue’s protective wax finish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe two pictures you see here show the conservators using blow torches for the application of hot wax. As noted on this blog, the care and protection of public outdoor sculpture is costly, but critical to the long life of these beautiful works of art. Stay tuned for more news about conservation and the public outdoor sculpture at Columbia, and say thank you to the staff from Conservation Solutions!

Auguste Rodin and The Thinker

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmong all the public outdoor sculptures on campus, the one probably most familiar to people is The Thinker (Le Penseur) by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). Situated on the lawn outside Philosophy Hall, The Thinker is six feet tall without his base, which adds nearly another six feet to its overall height.

Rodin began his career in the mid-1870s, following the end of the Franco-Prussian War, a period in which numerous monumental sculptures began to appear throughout Paris as a form of patriotism to the newly-established Third Republic government. His Parisian artist contemporaries included the Impressionist painters Claude Monet and Edgar Degas. Although Rodin’s sculptures are figurative in nature and arguably an adaptation of classical forms, art historians see them as the beginning of a modernist sensibility toward abstraction in sculpture because of their stark hyper-realism and fragmentation of the body. The Thinker was originally designed in 1880-82 as the central figure at the top of his monumental set of doors, The Gates of Hell. The seated male nude was meant to represent Dante contemplating his journey into Hell as recounted in his epic poem The Inferno. The commission for the doors never came to fruition, and so Rodin began marketing individual sculptures from the portal as art objects unto themselves. He cast the first life-sized versions of The Thinker in 1903.

After Rodin’s death, his studio continued to produce bronze casts in his name using the sculptor’s original models. Columbia’s replica of The Thinker was commissioned in 1930 by then-President Nicholas Murray Butler from the Musée Rodin, and it was cast in bronze by Alexis Rudier, Rodin’s preferred foundry. The sculpture as it sits on the lawn outside Philosophy Hall has come to symbolize wisdom and knowledge, the importance of the thought process needed to excel in one’s academic studies.