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"Bacchante & Infant Faun" (1893) | Frederick William MacMonnies


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catalog text

United States, 1863-1937

"Bacchante & the Infant Faun" (1893)

Patinated bronze | Signed "F. MacMonnies 1893"; with foundry cachet of Jaboeuf & Rouard

Item # 209TPA12Z 

The original model of Bacchante and Infant Faun, conceived in 1893 and cast in 1894, was larger than life-size and measured roughly 83". It is presently held in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and three other oversized models were produced during MacMonnies life, two of which are held by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Musée National de la Coopération Franco-Américaine in Blérancourt, France. Even larger sculptures in marble are held by the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument. There are four known life-size works measuring roughly 68" in overall height.

MacMonnies partnered with foundries in both France and the United States to have this model cast in dimensions of roughly 34" and approximately 16". These include Roman Bronze Works of New York and the Parisian foundries of Jaboeuf & Rouard, H. Ronald, E. Gruet and Thiebaut among others. The present example is the 16" edition cast by Jaboeuf & Rouard with a fine textured surface and a brilliant overall brown surface patination with nuanced hints of reddish-oxide and other hues caught in the recesses and low spots throughout.

This work was one of the greatest public scandals of MacMonnies' career and was also one of the large public debates centered around art during the last years of the nineteenth century. Starting the outlines in his studio in Paris in 1893 as a rough sketch in clay, within three years the sculpture was completed to depict a carousing priestess of the ancient mythological Bacchus. Clearly a product of the French Beaux-Arts movement which dominated American art during the late nineteenth century, it was intended for installation at the Boston Public Library. The sculpture was MacMonnies' most significant sculpture to date following his highly successful exhibition of Barge of State at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago to much critical acclaim.

Upon its completion, MacMonnies gave the sculpture as a gift to Charles McKim as thanks for a fifty-dollar loan the architect had made to the sculptor. As the head architect for the newly constructed Boston Public Library, Charles McKim offered it to the Library as a gift where it was only in place for three months before being rejected by the Art Commission of the City of Boston for the dubious moral tone. The sculpture was viewed by the conservative Bostonians as a monument inebriation, the public in general being offended by the gleeful female figure's lack of idealization - an absolute rejection of the Classical - and the suggestion of drunkenness while holding an infant. It was his intentional modeling of real figures with their flaws and blemishes, dimples, baby fat and the sheer excitement on the young woman's face that made this lively silhouette much too tangible to be considered acceptable by Puritan Boston.

McKim instead gifted the model to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1897, where they described it as "one of the most vibrant images of American art". The spectacle of this public episode would make it an icon of American sculpture and one of MacMonnies most famous and quickly recognized works.

Aided significantly by the public scandal surrounding this work, MacMonnies produced many of the smaller 30" and 16" versions. The consistent quality of these works was maintained by casting the models from a master bronze rather than using plaster molds, as the detail and surface texture deteriorate over time in the plaster casts.

MacMonnies worked with his friend Eugénie Pasque as the model, her identity was initially unattributed but a sketch by Charles Dana Gibson (held in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, acc. no. 2021.16.6) gave the first clue as it depicts MacMonnies sitting in a cafe with the young woman - a perfect picture of Bacchante.

The Metropolitan quotes the artist in their catalogue American Sculpture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Works by Artists Born Before 1865, pp. 436-439 as he remembers the development of the sculpture:

“I returned to Europe, and went to Paris and started to work on my Bacchante. I had made this design long before, but I never found a model for it. I feel sometimes that the model creates the work. Then a woman came in and I said “There is my Bacchante!” It was the real Bacchante, who used to laugh herself right out. I created this thing and she was just what I wanted. She was just nineteen.”

The exhibition of Bacchante in 1894 at the Paris Salon was so enthusiastically received that it led to an immediate order for a model to be placed in the collection of the Musée du Luxembourg by the French government.

Similar examples at auction:

  • Christie's, New York, Sale 2681, American Art, February 26 2013, lot 55, achieved $ 6250 USD; a 16 1/2" model cast by H. Rouard and finished in a dark-brown surface patina
  • Christie's, New York, Sale 8537, American Paintings and Sculpture, June 12 2001, lot 92, achieved $ 4113 USD; a 16" model cast by Jaboeuf et Rouard and finished in a brown surface patina

Museum Holdings of this Work:

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, acc. no. 97.19 (the original Boston casting)
  • Smithsonian American Art Museum, acc. no. 1968.23, 34" high, cast by Jaboeuf et Rouard Fondeurs
  • The Clark Art Institute, acc. no. 1955.17, 34 1/2" high
  • Indianapolis Museum of Art, acc. no. 37.125, cast by E. Gruet Jeune fondeur, 34" high
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, acc. no. 30.521

Artist Listings & Bibliography:

  • Rediscoveries in American Sculpture: Studio Works 1893-1939, Conner and Rosenkranz, Texas Press, 1989, p. 123-132, pictured p. 131
  • Masters of American Sculpture: The Figurative Tradition From the American Renaissance to the Millenium, Reynolds, Abbeville, 1993, p. 105-111, pictured p. 109
  • Dictionary of American Sculptors: 18th Century to the Present, Opitz, Apollo, 1984, p. 253
  • Art Bronzes, Forrest, Schiffer, 1988, pictured p. 266, biography p. 479
  • A Century of American Sculpture: The Roman Bronze Works Foundry, Rosenfeld, Schiffer, 2002, p. 204-207, pictured p. 204

Measurements: 16 3/8" H x 5" diameter (base) x 7" W (at widest)

Condition Report:
Exquisite original condition. Surface professionally cleaned and conserved with beeswax. A few high points with faintly rubbed patina.