Unfortunately, most people now can see Hale only by peering through the iron fence surrounding City Hall.
MacMonnies was a shooting star in the American art world of the 1890s. A student of Augustus Saint Gaudens, he rocketed to fame with this sculpture of Nathan Hale and with the Bacchante and Infant Faun that was banned from Boston's Public Library. (It’s now on display in the American Wing Courtyeard of the Metropolitan Museum, along with several of MacMonnies’ other early works.) For the Columbian Exposition in 1892-1893 (see the Columbus Monument), MacMonnies designed the enormous Barge of State, which sat on a pedestal 150 feet wide. In the same decade, MacMonnies created the bronze sculptures for the great arch commemorating the Civil War that stands at the northern end of Prospect Park, Brooklyn.
With sales of small-scale reproductions of his works, MacMonnies’s income in the 1890s reached $300,000 - probably $3 million in present-day dollars.
But as the twentieth century opened, MacMonnies lost his fire: Beauty and Truth on the facade of the New York Public Library are lifeless and insipid, as is the much-maligned Civic Virtue, banished from City Hall to Kew Gardens and recently transferred to the Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
For more on MacMonnies’ career, see Dianne L. Durante’s Artist-Entrepreneurs: Saint Gaudens, MacMonnies, and Parrish, a lecture available from the Ayn Rand Bookstore.
“Invictus,” by William Ernest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Copyright (c) 2013 Dianne L. Durante