“To deaccession, or not to deaccession?” Paul Manship’s Actaeon and the American School of Classical Studies at AthensPosted: June 1, 2014
Revised on August 3, 2022, after it was discovered that the bronze carries Manship’s signature. New photos were added.
This is the question that Doreen Canaday Spitzer, President of the Board of Trustees of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (1983-1988), posed in a memo to board members on January 25th, 1988. But why would the School ever consider putting up its valuable possessions on the market (the others mooted for sale included Amory Gardner’s portrait by Anders Zorn and a Tiffany lamp once owned by Carl and Elizabeth Blegen)? Because there was immediate pressure to secure funding for the construction of the New Extension of the Blegen Library. It was Richard H. Howland, former chairman of the Managing Committee and Trustee of the American School, who brought Doreen’s attention to the significant value of Paul Manship’s bronze Actaeon and the financial benefits the School would gain from its sale.
Paul Manship (1885-1966) was an American sculptor from Minnesota whose work can be seen in several public buildings and museums; he is also known for his low relief work on coins and medals, including the John F. Kennedy inaugural medal. His small bronzes are auctioned for several hundred thousands of dollars. The Dancer and the Gazelles (1916) was sold for $434,000 in a Bonhams’ auction in 2009, while the group of Diana and Actaeon was sold for more than a million at Christies in 2015. It is certain that the sale of the single Actaeon in the late 1980s could have brought two or three hundred thousand dollars to the School. Prudence, however, prevailed because a few months later, in May of 1988, Spitzer stated “I believe the [Manship] bronze should not be considered as a source of funds for the Blegen [Library], or any other expansion. We are obliged to raise much more, in any case, than it should bring…” Doreen, with typical frankness, further admitted that “Yes, I argued for selling it, but I did not succeed in convincing myself! Yes, ‘the School is not a Museum,’ but neither is it a factory. It is a cultural institution. We appreciate nice furniture; handsome green and gold china from 9 Plutarch St. [she refers to the house where Carl and Elizabeth Blegen lived] is preferable to cafeteria crockery.” By November of 1988, the Trustees had voted to have the Manship bronze insured together with the portrait of Amory Gardner by Anders Zorn) and the Tiffany lamp that once belonged to the Blegens (for the Zorn portrait see an earlier post).
I first saw Manship’s Actaeon in the early 1990s on the mantel of the fireplace in the Main Reading Room of the Blegen Library where it competed for attention with Carl Blegen’s large portrait. It was later moved downstairs and placed on the mantel of the fireplace opposite the Blegen Librarian’s office, this time competing with the large portrait of Amory Gardner by Anders Zorn. Always in the wrong place, I thought. In 2007, it was moved to the Director’s residence and placed on a lacquered chest on the landing of the marble staircase that leads to the piano nobile, below the W. J. McPhearson decorated window (see Glass “Eye Candy”: A Decorated Window at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens). This was certainly a better location, but still not the best. A piece of sculpture like this should be viewed in the round, and in all its placements it could only be viewed from the front. Ten years later, in 2017, it was placed on the mantel of the fireplace in the Main Reading Room of the Blegen Library.
Manship’s Actaeon was bequeathed to the American School by Gorham P. Stevens in 1963. An architect by training, Stevens had served as director of the American Academy in Rome (1913-1932) and as director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (1939-1947). Rumor had it that Manship gave Actaeon to Stevens as a wedding present but that cannot be true since Stevens married Annette Notaras in 1906, while the earliest version of Actaeon was not created until 1923. Manship must have given the bronze to Stevens sometime between 1923 and 1927 when Manship and his family lived in Paris, and certainly before Stevens’s retirement from the Academy in 1932.
Today the name of Paul Manship is hardly recognizable to an American lay audience, even after recent shows at the Metropolitan Museum and the Smithsonian. Although he has been touted as the “single most influential artist in the United States between the two world wars,” “the sculptor who was a star of the Art Deco years” (Brenson 1991), people only recognize him when I mention the Prometheus Fountain (1934) at the Rockefeller Center Plaza or the Heracliscus Fountain (1915) at the American Academy in Rome (for those who have studied architecture or archaeology in Rome, see Knauer 1996, 194). Manship’s hugh success in the interwar period is largely owed to the fact that he adopted elements of the Archaic Greek style in his art. Thus, his Archaistic style was appreciated both by supporters of the fading Beaux-Arts tradition and by modernists.
While on a scholarship at the American Academy in Rome (1909-1912), Manship took a six-week trip to Greece in the spring of 1912 that changed his career forever. In Greece he quickly fell in love with Archaic art. Upon his return to Rome he gave a lecture entitled “The Decorative Value of Greek Sculpture” at the Academy where he extolled the virtues of the korai on the Acropolis and the pedimental sculpture of the Zeus temple at Olympia, admitting that the statue of Hermes by Praxiteles (which is now thought to be a Hellenistic copy) left him “disappointed” (the text of his lecture is available in Rather 1991, 183-189). Upon his return to America, Manship mounted an innovative exhibit at the annual exhibition of the Architectural League in New York in 1913, receiving positive reviews for his new style that combined archaic and archaistic features. It must be mentioned here that parallel to that exhibition, the Association of Modern Painters and Sculptors ran the so-called Armory Show which featured artists like Aristide Maillol, Alexander Archipenko, and Constantine Brancusi and introduced the American audience to Cubism, Fauvism, Futurism, and other experimental styles of modern European art. The new directions of the Armory Show challenged an American public which still felt more comfortable with naturalism. Paul Manship’s sculptural figures became fashionable in America because his work succeeded in negotiating the distance between tradition and modernity, to paraphrase art historian Susan Rather, an expert in Manship (Rather 1993, 1). Manship himself never embraced modernism.
After the 1913 exhibit Manship enjoyed great success running a busy workshop and receiving a host of public and private commissions. In addition to that for the Rockefeller Center Plaza, others included The Four Elements (1914), low reliefs placed above the doors of The American Telephone and Telegraph Company in New York (195 Broadway) and one of the city’s most beautiful skyscrapers; the marble portrait of John D. Rockefeller (1916); the Indian Hunter and his Dog for the Cochran Memorial Park in Saint Paul, Minnesota (1926); and the Bronx Zoo’s Paul Rainey Memorial Gateway (1934), to mention a few.
Diana and Actaeon date from Manship’s second period in Europe. Following WWI, during which Manship served in the American Red Cross, the artist and his family made London and Paris their home until 1927, with Manship commuting back and forth to New York, where he kept a second studio in addition to the one in Paris. He first conceived of Diana in 1921. Actaeon as a companion of Diana was conceived two years later in 1923 (although he continued to produce variations until 1925). The two sculpture groups, with Diana and Actaeon flying off in opposite directions, were meant to be displayed together with the viewer visualizing the flight of the arrow in the intermediate space, as Harry Rand, curator of the Smithsonian, has argued (Rand 1989). And this is perhaps the problem with our Actaeon in finding a proper location for its display. We are missing the other half, Diana.
Diana and Actaeon exist in three sizes: just over two feet, heroic size, and slightly under life-size (Rather 1993, 160, note 99). For example, the gilded Diana and Actaeon (1924) in the Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina and at the Norton Museum of American Art in West Palm Beach are of heroic size (over seven feet high); those in the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh are slightly under life-size (less than five feet); and finally, there are the smaller ones, just over two feet, such as the Actaeon at the American School.
The School’s Actaeon is interesting for an additional reason. In my effort to track down through the web all the known examples of Actaeon, I came to realize that ours belongs to the earliest version, that of 1923. In that version, Actaeon’s transformation into a stag is indicated by a pair of antlers growing out of his head. The only similar example is the Actaeon at the Carnegie Museum of Art at Pittsburgh.
In the Brookgreen Gardens’s Actaeon (1924), the transformation is visible in both the ears and the antlers. By 1925, Manship appears to have opted for incipient antlers and stag ears, as one can see in the under life-size Actaeon in the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the figure in the David Owley Museum of Art Collection in Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana (here I urge my in-laws who live in Indianapolis to make the one-hour trip to Muncie to see Diana and Actaeon up close). It would be interesting to examine Manship’s papers either in the Archives of American Art in the Smithsonian or in the Minnesota Historical Society to look for the reasons for this experimentation with the antlers and the ears.
I have saved the best story for last. While tracking down all the Actaeons on the web, I came across the Diana and Actaeon bronzes now on display at the Hudson River Museum but which once adorned the Untermyer Gardens, a historic park of 43 acres in the City of Yonkers in New York. The gardens were originally part of Samuel Untermyer’s 150 acres estate, also known as Greystone. In the 1920s and 1930s, the park was open to the public on a weekly basis and for special events, and it attracted thousands of visitors. After Untermyer’s death in 1940, the estate fell into disrepair until part of it came under the care of the City of Yonkers. In fact, there has been a recent effort to revive the gardens in their original form, and I must say that the results are impressive.
On Barbara Israel’s website, I found lots of useful information about the Untermyer Gardens, as well as an essay by Eva Schwarz about the sculpture that once adorned the estate. I quote from her: “In October 1939, Actaeon, valued at the time at about $8,500, was stolen from the premises and sold to a junk shop for a mere $7.50. The junk shop owner learned that the figure was procured dishonestly, so hastily gave it back to the thief, who in turn then cut it up into four pieces and buried it! Needless to say, Untermyer must have been incredibly relieved when it was soon recovered by the police.” This story reminds me of the story of the Anavyssos Kouros (“Kroisos”) which after its discovery was cut into many pieces and smuggled out of Greece to Paris, before it was returned to Athens in 1937. It also reminds me of the “missing” Diana, for there must have been one once, and I keep wondering what happened to her.
Brenson, M. 1991. “Sculptor Who Was a Star of the Art Deco Years,” in The New York Times, June 14, 1991.
Knauer, E. R. 1996. “Paul Manship’s Heracliscus Fountain at the American Academy in Rome,” Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 41, 194-218.
Rand, H. 1989. Paul Manship, Washington, D.C.
Rather, S. 1993. Archaism, Modernism, and the Art of Paul Manship, Austin, Texas.