The Controversial Sculpture of Frederick MacMonnies
Frederick MacMonnies was born in Brooklyn, New York. He began carving stone at an early age, and by eighteen, he was working in the studio of Augustus Saint-Gaudens. MacMonnies studied at night at the National Academy of Design and The Art Students League of New York. In 1884, he traveled to Paris, where he studied sculpture at the École des Beaux-Arts and later opened a studio. MacMonnies won numerous awards at the Paris Salon and traveled annually to the United States visiting dealers and patrons. His long term residence in France was at Giverny, the home of the famous French Impressionist painter Claude Monet. With the help of the architect Stanford White, MacMonnies received numerous important sculpture commissions. The centerpiece of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago was awarded to MacMonnies in 1891. The sculpture of Columbia in her Grand Barge of State was placed in the vast central fountain of the exposition’s Court of Honor. The work established MacMonnies as one of the most important sculptors of his time. He returned to the United States in 1915, where he continued his successful career.
One of MacMonnie’s best-known sculptures is Bacchante and Infant Faun. Originally a life-size nude, it was offered as a gift to the Boston Public Library by the building’s architect Charles Follen McKim in 1896, to be placed in the garden court of the library. The bacchante, a female worshipper of Bacchus, the Roman wine god, is shown in a wild pose, teasing the faun with a bunch of grapes. In his scrupulous attention to detail, MacMonnies went beyond the idealizing conventions of the day. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union raised such a public outcry because of the sculpture’s “drunken indecency” that the library turned down the gift. McKim gave the statue to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Naturally, the uproar over the sculpture gave it a great deal of notoriety in the United States, causing MacMonnies to make numerous smaller versions, many of which can be found in American and French museums. Eventually, a copy of the sculpture was placed in its intended location at the Boston Public Library.
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