Brooklyn, NY 1863 - New York, NY 1937
Pan de Rohallion
Pan of Rohallion
reduction from a 1890 modeled statue
- Website of Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH (accessed August 5, 2016), where another bronze copy is:
During the 1890s sculptor Frederick MacMonnies emerged as a leading proponent of the French Beaux-Arts style in America. A native of Brooklyn, New York, MacMonnies was only eighteen years old when he took a job as helper in the studio of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Although he was soon promoted to assistant, study at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League led the young artist to consider painting as his primary avocation, and in 1884 he traveled to Paris in hopes of gaining a place in the atelier of either John Singer Sargent or Paul Baudry. On finding both painters unavailable, MacMonnies returned to sculpture, becoming first the student and then the assistant of Jean Alexandre Falguière (1831-1900). He began to exhibit his works at the annual Salon, winning an honorable mention in 1889 and a gold medal in 1891. During this period, MacMonnies received a number of commissions, and by 1890 he had opened his own studio in Paris.
Through Saint-Gaudens, MacMonnies received a major commission, The Triumph of Columbia, for the great pool at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition. Although temporary, the large multifigure composition was seen by millions, and its creator hailed as a rising star in the American art world. MacMonnies gained additional notice for his spirited and occasionally controversial figure studies. While some observers condemned animated sculptures such as Pan of Rohallion and Bacchante with Infant Faun as disgraceful or frivolous, many admired MacMonnies's innovative departures from the academic canon. Made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor in France, MacMonnies won honors and commissions on both sides of the Atlantic. With the spread of World War I, however, he returned permanently to the United States. Toward the end of his career, MacMonnies focused once more on painting, and during the 1920s and 1930s he produced fewer sculptural works. The artist died of pneumonia in 1937.
According to Lorado Taft (1860-1936), a sculptor and contemporary of MacMonnies, Pan of Rohallion was the first of a series of "fanciful figures" created by the artist for his own amusement. Conceived as a fountain sculpture, the work was subsequently mass-produced in several reduced sizes. The Currier version is a small statuette cast in Paris by H. Ravard and measures almost fifteen inches in height. It portrays a young boy standing on a globe, laughing as he plays his double pipe. Eight small fish, originally designed to spout water, encircle and support the globe at regular intervals. The pose of the figure is rigorously symmetrical, conferring a note of dignified restraint that seems at odds with the impishness of MacMonnies's portrayal. Taft noted the discrepancy as well and seems to have concluded that it was a private joke on the part of the sculptor. With a good nature lacking in other critics, he assessed the pose as freshly "mock-heroic," the antic of a child rather than a classical god.
The classical inspiration, sinuous proportions, and expert modeling of the figure demonstrate MacMonnies's mastery of the French Beaux-Arts style, and for a number of critics, it was baffling and irritating that such talent should be wasted on the production of apparently silly sculpture. At the turn of the century, many held that sculpture should be edifying and morally uplifting. Pan of Rohallion is neither, and for Taft, its simple good humor and "irresponsibility" constituted a notable step forward from the ponderous academicism of the previous era. Others admired MacMonnies's innovation as well, and within a generation, the portrayal of emotions for their own sake -joy and love in particular- became normalized within American academic sculpture. A good example of this later work is Harriet Whitney Frishmuth's The Crest of the Wave, also in the Currier Museum of Art collection.