Bacchante and Infant Faun

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Although initially celebrated in Paris, the larger version of this sculpture provoked a scandal when it arrived in Boston to be installed at the newly built public library. Bostonians were shocked by the figure's unidealized nudity and by the subject, considered a glorification of drunkenness. The original was eventually given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Despite the controversy, the work became very popular and many smaller versions—including this bronze—were made.

Frederick MacMonnies was a successful and popular sculptor at the turn of the century. Trained by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, he championed the Renaissance revival associated with the Beaux-Arts style. MacMonnies spent most of his career in France and was strongly affected by the lively, fluid modeling he encountered in Paris. He was extremely prolific and exemplified the academic style and philosophy still prevalent at the end of the nineteenth century.

In 1896 Charles Follen McKim, architect of the newly constructed Boston Public Library, decided to donate a fountain sculpture to the courtyard of the Library in memory of his recently deceased wife. McKim was familiar with MacMonnies’s bronze Bacchante and Infant Faun, the object of rave reviews by French critics. The original 83-inch bronze had been exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1894 and was purchased by the Musée Luxembourg—the first sculpture by an American to be included in that collection. The Bacchante was praised for its elegance and graceful beauty; McKim thought it would suit his needs to perfection.

No one could have anticipated the scandal that encompassed the Bacchante on her arrival in America. Bostonians were up in arms against the proposed installation, labeling the statue a “monument to inebriety.” Angry criticism focused on the Bacchante’s nudity, its apparent frivolity, and the subject matter. The idea of a young, nude woman holding up the fruit of the vine to an infant was considered scandalous. The statue became a symbol of corruption; it was a threat to the Victorian moral code.

McKim had intended the fountain as a memorial to his wife and the situation became increasingly distasteful to him. In May of 1897, McKim withdrew the gift, and offered the statue to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, where it can be seen today.

The Clark statuette is a bronze reduction of the 83-inch original, probably made in 1894. In spite of its infamous reputation, the statue was extremely popular, and the small versions were frequently purchased as parlor bronzes by private individuals.

—Jennifer Gordon Lovett, excerpted from The Art and Craft of Nineteenth-Century Sculpture, Jennifer Gordon Lovett et al. (Williamstown, Mass.: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1994).

Provenance

James Henry Smith; to (American Art Association, sale of the Smith mansion and collection, Jan. 18-22, 1910, no. 215), to

J. Payne Whitney, Esq., New York; to Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (his widow)l to the Whitney Museum of American Art,  Nov. 17, 1931; to (M. Knoedler & Co, New York), to Robert Sterling and Francine Clark, May 1, 1950 to Clark Art Institute, 1955.

Frederick William MacMonnies

American, 1863–1937

Bacchante and Infant Faun

1894

Bronze

34 1/2 x 10 in. (87.6 x 25.4 cm)


Acquired by Sterling and Francine Clark, 1950

1955.17


ON VIEW

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Conrads, Margaret C. American Paintings and Sculpture at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1990.