American, 1863–1937


“Frederick William MacMonnies began to paint seriously after establishing a reputation as one of America’s most accomplished sculptors. He was born in Brooklyn and attended grammar school until his father’s financial ruin forced him to take a variety of menial jobs. In the evenings he attended art classes at Cooper Union and the school of the National Academy of Design, where his instructors were Lemuel E. Wilmarth (1835–1918) and Edgar Melville Ward (1849–1915). He also studied briefly at the Art Students League. When he was sixteen or seventeen, he became assistant to the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907). During the next three years, he worked on a number of that sculptor’s projects, among theme the decorations for the Cornelius Vanderbilt II residence in New York.

“Financial assistance from the architect Charles F. McKim enabled MacMonnies to go to France, where he lived for most of the next thirty years. At the École des Beaux-Arts he studied under Jean Alexandre Falguière (1831–1900). MacMonnies began to exhibit his sculpture at the Paris Salon in 1887, and two years later his Diana won an honorable mention there, the first of many awards. In 1888, shortly after his marriage to the painter Mary Fairchild (1858–1946), he received a commission for three bronze angels for St. Paul’s Church in New York. Two years later Edward D. Adams commissioned Pan of the Rohallion for his home in Seabright, New Jersey. As was the case with many of MacMonnies’s sculptures, a reduced version of this work was cast in the form of a statuette. The Metropolitan Museum of Art owns several of these reductions, including Young Faun and Heron, ca. 1890, and Nathan Hale, 1890.

“MacMonnies’s full-length Nathan Hale in City Hall Park, New York, was unveiled in 1893, as was his enormous Columbia Fountain (later destroyed) for the Chicago World’s Fair. Following a great success at the fair, he received several major commissions, and, working in close collaboration with the architect Stanford White, he produced some statues for Prospect Park, Brooklyn. His Bacchante and Infant Faun, 1893 (Metropolitan Museum of Art), was installed by Charles F. McKim in the garden of the Boston Public Library in 1896, but after local temperance advocates objected, it was removed and presented to the Metropolitan Museum in 1897. Throughout the 1890s, MacMonnies’s style and subject matter, which at first had been strongly influence by Falguière’s, became more individual and more assured. His decorative sculptures, with their active poses and lively, reflective surfaces, make a distinct contribution to American sculpture of the period.

“At the height of his creative abilities during the late 1890s, MacMonnies taught at a school in Paris run by a Mme. Vitté (or Vitti). He also taught a class in 1899 with James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) and often took students and assistants into his own studio. Among his well-known pupils were the portrait painter Ellen Emmet Rand (1876–1941) and the sculptor Janet Scudder (1875–1940).

“Drained by his work as a sculptor, MacMonnies seriously took up painting around the turn of the century. Previously he had studied under painters in New York, and during the early 1880s he had even assisted in painting decorations for the Metropolitan Opera House. When he arrived in Paris, several of his letters of introduction were to painters—Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848–1884), Paul Baudry (1828–1886), and John Singer Sargent (1856–1925). Although circumstances prevented him from working with any of these men, he later spent a brief period in Munich, where he studied painting with Johann Caspar Herterich (1838–1905) and Joseph Widmann. In 1898 MacMonnies went to Madrid to copy works by Velásquez and then made an intensive study of painting materials and techniques. By 1901 he was exhibiting his paintings at the Paris Salon and won an honorable mention that year and a third class medal in 1904, proving that “an artist can be equally apt in painting and sculpture” (E. Pettit, p. 324). MacMonnies’s career as a painter, which spanned at least six years, has never been carefully studied. His early paintings were realistic and directly executed, recalling Sargent’s portraits from the previous decade. MacMonniess approach was conventional and his style decorative. A group of his portraits exhibited at Durand-Ruel, New York, in 1903, received mixed reviews. One reviewer, however, called them “brilliant painting, brilliant to the point of glitter (New York Daily Tribune, Jan. 21, 1903, p. 9).

“MacMonnies soon returned to sculpture with renewed enthusiasm. He produced two equestrian monuments, General Slocum fro Brooklyn, in 1905, and General McClellan, unveiled in Washington, D.C. in 1907. Other commissions received before World War I included the Denver Pioneer Monument and the Princeton Battle Monument. In 1910, following a divorce from his first wife, he married Alice Jones. Five years later wartime conditions forced them to leave their home in Giverny and return to America. MacMonnies continued working on monuments; among those he did in the 1920s were the unpopular Civic Virtue, 1922, eventually moved from its site in New York’s City Hall Park to Kew Gardens, Queens, and the Marne Battle Monument, 1926, in Meaux, France. Several portrait busts, for example, of James McNeill Whistler and Thomas Hastings (1790–1870), date from the 1930s.

“MacMonnies’s style in sculpture was outdated long before his death in 1937. Nevertheless, from the late 1880s until World War I, his facile modeling and imaginative compositions made an important contribution to the advancement of the Beaux-Arts style first popularized in America by Saint-Gaudens. MacMonnies’s paintings, although less original and less influential, demonstrate his virtuosity and add another dimension to his work.”

(Burke, Doreen Bolger, American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Vol. III, A Catalogue of Works by Art and Artists Born between 1846 and 1864, 1980).

Museum Collections:
Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA
Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Brooklyn Museum, New York, NY
Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, WI
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH
Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, SC
Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH
Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, MA
Huntington Library, San Marino, CA
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, NY
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Musée Alphonse-Georges Poulain, Vernon
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Museum of the National Academy of Design, New York, NY
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, CT
Palmer Museum of Art, University Park, PA
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA
Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ
Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa, FL
Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, IL
Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, PA

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Please contact us if you are interested in selling your Frederick MacMonnies sculptures or other artwork from the 19th century and early 20th century.