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Life Arts    H2'ed 7/6/19

OEN Editors' Further Adventures at the Phila Museum of Art

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Editor-in-Chief Rob Kall, Managing Editor Meryl Ann Butler, and Senior Editor Marta Steele enjoyed a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art a couple of weeks ago, this is the second part of that story, with additional museum highlights (Part 1 is here.)

Saint-Gaudens' Statue of Diana

Visitors to the Philadelphia Museum of Art are welcomed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens most famous statue, Diana, atop the Great Hall. The gold-leafed statue stands over 14 feet tall. It was originally created in 1892-94 as a weather vane for the second Madison Square Garden building in New York City and stood on a 300-foot-high tower, making Diana the highest point in the city. It was also the first statue in that part of Manhattan to be lit by electricity at night.

The statue and its tower was a landmark until 1925 when the building was demolished. No suitable site for relocation was found, and the statue was given to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Diana by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (note the size of the museum guard at right)
Diana by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (note the size of the museum guard at right)
(Image by Meryl Ann Butler)
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Saint-Gaudens and his parents immigrated from Dublin when he was six months old, and he was raised in NYC. After training in Paris, he returned to NY and achieved major critical success for his monuments commemorating heroes of the Civil War, including the colossal Standing Lincoln in Lincoln Park, Chicago, which is considered the finest portrait statue in the United States (several replicas were made and still exist).

Saint-Gaudens' masterpiece is the Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment, called the Shaw Memorial, created for the Boston Commons.

Restored patinated plaster cast for the Shaw Memorial  by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1900)
Restored patinated plaster cast for the Shaw Memorial by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1900)
(Image by National Gallery of Art)
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Saint-Gaudens' contract specified a 2-year project, but he worked on it for 14 years, calling it his "labor of love." Originally the memorial was going to depict only Shaw, the Harvard-educated son of white abolitionists, and commander of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first Civil War regiment of African Americans. However, as Saint-Gaudens worked on it, it became a monument to the entire regiment, as he added figures of the volunteers to the sculpture. Saint-Gaudens' naturalism and respectful depiction of African Americans was unparallelled in 19th-century American art.

According to the National Gallery of Art, "On the evening of July 18, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts led the assault upon the nearly impenetrable earthworks of Fort Wagner, which guarded access to the port of Charleston, South Carolina. Shaw, 25, at the front of the charge, was one of the first to die. Of the approximately 600 men of the 54th who participated, nearly 300 were captured, declared missing, or died from wounds they received that day. The steadfastness and bravery of the 54th were widely reported, providing a powerful rallying point for African Americans who had longed for the chance to fight for the emancipation of their race. By the end of the war, African Americans composed 10 percent of the Union forces, contributing crucial manpower to the final victory of the North."

Charles Willson Peale, Colonial America's Leonardo

Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) was the Leonardo of Colonial America. After failed attempts at saddlemaking, clock repair and metalworking, he studied are in Europe, primarily with Benjamin West. After returning, Peale taught his younger brother, James, who went on to become a professional artist, as well.

Charles Willson Peale painted a life-size, double portrait of his sons Raphaelle and Titian, T he Staircase Group (1795). This painting is presented in an actual door frame, with the addition of a protruding wooden step, which enhances the trompe l'oeil ("fool-the-eye") effect. Installed in a corner of Peale's colonial home, it was so realistic that when George Washington visited, he tipped his hat and said hello to the boys!

Staircase Group by Charles Willson Peale
Staircase Group by Charles Willson Peale
(Image by Meryl Ann Butler)
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While he abhorred violence, Peale's committment to American freedom compelled him to enlis t in the Continental Army, where he was a lieutenant in the militia. He crossed the Delaware with Washington and spent the infamous winter at Valley Forge. During this time in the field, he painted approximately 40 miniatures of officers and Washington.

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Meryl Ann Butler is an artist, author, educator and OpedNews Managing Editor who has been actively engaged in utilizing the arts as stepping-stones toward joy-filled wellbeing since she was a hippie. She began writing for OpEdNews in Feb, 2004. She became a Senior Editor in August 2012 and Managing Editor in January, (more...)

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