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Artist Biography

Frederick MacMonnies was an exceptionally well known sculptor in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He assisted the venerable Auguste Saint-Gaudens in his Brooklyn studio, while taking classes at the National Academy of Design, the Art Students League, and Cooper Union. His talent and connection to Saint-Gaudens brought him important commissions for his Beaux Arts-style statuaries, but MacMonnies risked losing this comfortable existence by testing the boundaries of both the art market and contemporary sensibilities.

As a more realistic nude and a smaller version of an original, Bacchante and Faun is the definitive example of MacMonnies’ artistic aesthetic and his professional behavior. After studying for years in Paris, where sculptors like Alexandre Falguiere introduced an element of realism to classical nudes, MacMonnies began to temper his own restrained Roman style with more modern lines. Because audiences saw identifiable females rather than simply classical ideals, the response was increasingly visceral. The story of the original Bacchante and Faun is demonstrative of this effect: it was a life-size nude, after the model Eugénie Pasque; a gift to the Boston Public Library by its architect Charles McKim in 1896. The Library was forced to refuse the gift owing to pressure from the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, who decried the statue as libidinous and corrupting. The Metropolitan Museum in New York accepted the work instead. The notoriety of this scandal was, naturally, highly beneficial for both the artist and this work.

MacMonnies was forward-thinking in his approach to marketing, targeting middle class audiences by mass producing smaller versions of his works to be purchased for more affordable prices. This became common practice among sculptors in the twentieth century. In challenging both the visual/moral sensibilities and intended audience, MacMonnies distinguished himself as a modern artist.

Aside from its notorious associations, the Bacchante and Faun is an attractive statue; the reckless abandon which particularly incensed the Woman’s League is precisely what makes this an appealing work today. Versions of this statue can be found in the permanent collection of major museums throughout the United States and France. At the time of its creation, the French government wished to purchase the original for the Musée du Luxembourg; it had already been promised to McKim, but a smaller copy was made for them. MacMonnies was one of the first American sculptors to be conferred such an honor by the French. A copy of the original is in the courtyard of the Boston Public Library—where it was intended to stand—and the original resides in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Other sculptures by MacMonnies are in the collections of such notable public institutions as The White House, Washington, DC; Brooklyn Memorial Arch, Brooklyn, NY; Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY; Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, New York; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Philadelphia, PA; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Hall of Fame, New York City; Pioneer Monument, Denver, CO; and the Swope Art Museum, Terre Haute, IN.

References:

William Kloss, A Nations Pride: Art in the White House (Washington, DC: White House Historical Association, 1992)

Janis Conner and Joel Rosenkranz, Rediscoveries in American Sculpture (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1989)