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Monday, 15 February 2010

Seeing Double

Celebrated Statues at Philly's
Art Museum are Down-sized

Junto Photos/Richard Carreño

By Richard Carreño Bio
Junto Staff Writer
Some of the statues are enlarged. Or, presented as diminutive replicas. Or, in fact, exact, full-sized copies. Many museum visitors, in Philadelphia and elsewhere, might think they're seeing double.

That's what happened to me recently when I visited the Princeton University Art Museum, and I came across a bronze cast of Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt. Wait. Wasn't this the same iconic statue that graces the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Great Stair Hall?

Not exactly.

What I encountered was one of those serendipitous occasions when you can see a favorite artwork in a different light. More accurately, in a different dimension.

Like many artists, Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), the American sculptor who created the Diana statue, well-known as the stairway's fixating focal piece, created different versions. In this case, two models that differ only in size. Both Dianas portray a nude huntress about to let fly a arrow from a taut bow.

As important, all the statues are originals, all cast under Saint-Gaudens supervision.

At 13 feet high, Philadelphia's Diana, once a copper weather-vane atop the second incarnation of New York's Madison Square Garden (1890-1925), is the taller version. It was also, during its time, New York's highest point, towering 300 feet and the first statue in New York lighted at night by electricity.

Since its donation by the New York Life Insurance Company in 1935, Diana has become PMA favorite as, according to the museum, a 'graceful rendering.... Her athletic fitness and elongated proportions are strikingly modern.'

Princeton's variant, and another Diana at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, are smaller by half. And gilded.

Two other notable statues, miniatures of The Thinker by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) and Joan of Arc by Emmanuel Frémiet (1824-1910), also have some visitors to the museum doing double-takes.

The Thinker, in its monumental variant in bronze and marble, of course, is one of the world-best known works by Rodin. One reason for that is there are so many of them, at least 20 'originals' worldwide. (These were cast from Rodin's original mold during the French sculptor's lifetime).

One of the 20, now gleaming after recent conservation, is located in front of the PMA's nearby satellite venue, the Rodin Museum on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. What is less known is that part of the PMA's permanent collection is a studio-sized version, about 30 inches tall. Located in the first-floor the European Art (1850-1900) galleries, this smaller variant, an exact model of the full-sized statues, isn't technically an 'orginial' since it was cast by its Parisian founder in in 1926, after Rodin's death.

Joan of Arc, in gilded bronze, also comes in two sizes. And, like the other statues, more than one of one or both of the models are extant.

A smaller version, about 18 inches high and cast around 1874, is also located in the European Art gallery. Philly's full-sized Joan has been a gleaming fixture in the city since the statue was purchased by the Fairmount Park Art Association in 1890.

This Joan is located at 25th Street and Kelly Drive, hardby the museum colossus. Well, until recently that is. The statue has been temporarily removed for a periodic cleaning and conversation. But, if you're travelling, other full-sized originals can be viewed in New Orleans, Paris, and in Nancy, France.