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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.

Anna Hyatt Huntington and Equestrian Lincoln

   Although most of the public outdoor sculpture at Columbia is located at the Morningside campus, there are also works of art installed at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in the Palisades. Measuring 14 feet in height, the bronze sculpture Equestrian Lincoln (Lincoln the Itinerant Lawyer) is installed on the lawn outside Lamont Hall. The sculpture is the work of prominent American woman sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973), and until March 15, 2014, you can view more of her work at The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery for the exhibition Goddess, Heroine, Beast: Anna Hyatt Huntingtons New York Sculpture, 1902-1936. Art Properties also has in its collection her sculpture of Cranes Rising, 1934, which was loaned to this exhibition.   

Hyatt Huntington designed and modeled this enormous equestrian statue in 1961 and had it cast in bronze using the lost wax process in 1965. The sculptor was an active member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Sculpture Society, and today she is best known for her dynamic animal and equestrian works. In this late work, however, Hyatt Huntington took a more pensive approach to her subject matter, choosing to depict the young President reading while his horse is grazing. The statue is meant to evoke Lincoln's lifelong commitment to learning. The work of art was a gift from Hyatt Huntington to Columbia, and it was intentionally placed on the Earth Sciences campus in memory to both her father, Alpheus Hyatt, a paleontologist and naturalist at Harvard University and M.I.T., and to her husband, Archer Milton Huntington, an active member of the American Geographical Society.

After being cast in bronze by the Modern Art Foundry on Long Island, Lincoln was installed in the orchard just south of Lamont Hall Library. It was unveiled by General Eisenhower in a ceremony held in October 1965. Davidson Taylor, then Director of the Committee on Art Properties, along with Hyatt Huntington and a committee of University officials, all agreed that the Lincoln should be installed on a low base to make it more approachable to viewers. In a letter to the artist, Taylor wrote that if "children want to play on it, well and good."

Columbia's version of the Equestrian Lincoln is one of several replicas made by the artist. The first cast was used to mark the entrance of the Illinois State Pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair, and it can now be seen in the New Salem Historic Park in New Salem, Illinois. In 1965 a second replica was sent by U.S. naval ship to Vienna as a gift from the 89-year-old Hyatt Huntington to the Austrian people after the Austrian Minister of Education reportedly admired the work at the World’s Fair. Two additional replicas can be seen in the United States today: one on Syracuse University's Environmental Science and Forestry Campus; and another on the grounds of the public library in Bethel, Connecticut.

— by Elena M. Cordova, Art Properties, Intern

Image Credit: Anna Hyatt Huntington, Equestrian Lincoln (Lincoln the Itinerant Lawyer), modeled 1961, cast 1965 by the Modern Art Foundry, New York, bronze, Gift of the artist (1965.8.1). Photographs: Lillian Vargas (top) and Roberto C. Ferrari (bottom), Art Properties, Avery Library, Columbia University.

George Grey Barnard and Pan

If you think you've seen this sculpture before but you're not sure where, then you've walked the grounds of Columbia's Morningside Heights campus.

This public outdoor sculpture is The Great God Pan (C00.825) by the American artist George Grey Barnard (1863-1938). The work shows the Greek god Pan in his usual form as half-man, half-goat, playing the pan pipes associated with him. As a fertility deity, he is often accompanied by fauns and nymphs, but here he is seen in solitude enjoying the music he plays. This sculpture was one of Barnard's first commissions upon returning from his artistic training in Paris. The Clark family commissioned the work from him in the mid-1890s for the Dakota apartment building on 72nd St. and Central Park West. The sculpture was cast in bronze by Henry-Bonnard Bronze Co., an important foundry located in New York. However, when completed, the sculpture was considered inappropriate for the Dakota, possibly because of the figure's uninhibited nudity. The sculpture was offered to the City of New York and briefly destined for Central Park, but eventually Edward Severin Clark donated it to Columbia for its newly developed Morningside campus.

In 1907 the architect Charles Follen McKim installed the sculpture as a working fountain in a neo-Pompeiian grotto in the northeast corner of campus. Over time it was moved as new construction took place on campus, and currently it is located on the lawn facing Lewisohn Hall.

Barnard's career as a sculptor continued, but he became more famous for his collection of medieval architectural fragments and sculptures, which eventually became the foundation for The Cloisters Museum & Gardens at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Image Credit: George Grey Barnard, The Great God Pan, installed 1907, bronze, Gift of Edward Severin Clark (C00.825). Photograph by Roberto C. Ferrari, Art Properties, Avery Library, Columbia University.