Richard Morris Hunt

  • Sculptor: Daniel Chester French
  • Architect: Bruce Price
  • Dedicated: 1900; allegorical figures erected 1901
  • Medium and size: Overall about 30 feet wide. Two bronze allegorical bronze figures (6.25 feet), bronze bust (2.25 feet), granite exedra and colonnade
  • Location: Fifth Avenue between 70th and 71st Streets
  • Subway: 6 to 68th Street - Hunter College

Hunt whole

Hunt bust

Hunt’s Tribune Building

Hunt’s Beaux Arts buildings, with their classical facades, were an important part of the City Beautiful movement (see Bryant). The Tribune Building, completed in 1875 to a much less traditional design, was twice as high as any other commercial structure in New York and the tallest building in the city except for Trinity Church. Innovative elements included a concrete-bedded foundation, the presence of at least one exterior window in every room, and a fireproof terracotta floor that was prompted by recent disastrous fires in Chicago in 1871 and Boston in 1872.

The Nonexistent Bridge

Manhattan 
1870

Above: This bird’s-eye view of Manhattan from 1870 shows a bridge that wasn’t there. Construction of the Brooklyn Bridge had begun earlier in 1870, but it was not completed until 1883. Since the reproduction of the map we used showed a tear, we took the liberty of having the Tribune Building pop up there, where it never was and never will be. We request all historians of New York City topography (you know who you are!) to calm down.

Hunt and the Columbian Exposition

On the Columbian Exposition of 1892-1893, see Columbus in Central Park. Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City includes a vivid description of Hunt’s exchange with architect Daniel Burnham, who came to New York to seek his aid with the Exposition. Karl Bitter (whose Carl Schurz stands in Morningside Park) offered this image of 66-year-old Hunt at an awards ceremony during the Exposition:

We had come early and listened until late to speeches and odes we could not hear, and everybody was thoroughly weary and tired, in rather a bad humor, like the weather outside. Finally Messrs. Burnham and Morton presented the medals. Shortly after the weary crowd of artists made its way across the grounds, I well remember what a bedraggled lot we were. I heard Mr. Hunt exclaim, just as we reached the Court of Honor, and his tone brought us to a sudden standstill: “Look around you,” he said, and he became eloquent in a manner I shall never forget. There he stood, erect with his bushy eyebrows slightly contracted, and his outstretched arm beckoning us to survey the surrounding structures. “Here we stand in the midst of what we have done, and have a cause to be proud of doing so much in so short a time! Why don't you hold up your heads in appreciation of the honor you have just received, like men, instead of crawling along in this dejected manner.” And he swore right roundly. “Artists you are, and like artists you should live, full of life and merriness.” As he continued speaking his eyes shone brighter, and he spoke with the enthusiasm of a young man, brimming over with the joy of success. He spoke about the work of art, and many other things. He also spoke about his country and what it had done, with a fire that warmed the heart of each listener. If we felt tired before, we felt tired no longer. The great enthusiasm of the speaker had kindled our own, and we cheered and cheered. A joyous band adjourned to the Island to make merry in the good old way, as only artists can, and all because Mr. Hunt, the oldest in age, was, in spirit, the most youthful. – Karl Bitter, quoted in Paul R. Baker, Richard Morris Hunt (1980), p. 404

Hunt and Sculpture

Hunt not only incorporated sculpture into his architecture but created pedestals for stand-alone sculpture that were designed unobtrusively to show off the works they supported. The base of the Statue of Liberty is Hunt's design. So are the pedestals of John Quincy Adams Ward’s Greeley, Washington (Wall St.), and the Seventh Regiment Memorial in Central Park (just north of Tavern on the Green at West 67th St.).

Hunt's plan for Metropolitan Museum of Art called for sculpture on the facade. Due to budget cuts, the sculpture was never completed, so the massive stacks of limestone above the entrance remain blank. But after 150 years, we’ve gotten used to it.

Metropolitan Museum

Above: Metropolitan Museum of Art facade, photo Wikipedia / Marlith

The Missing Setting of the Hunt Memorial

Although the Hunt Memorial is pleasing set against Central Park, we're missing some of its original context. When the Memorial was dedicated it faced the Lenox Library, which Hunt had designed. The Library's two wings and forecourt were echoed in the curving colonnade and center bust of the Memorial.

Lenox Library

Barely a decade after the Hunt Memorial was dedicated, the Lenox Library was razed to make way for a mansion designed by Carrere and Hastings for yet another nouveau-riche New Yorker. The elegant building now houses the Frick Collection.

Daniel Chester French

French (1850-1931, b. Exeter, N.H.) was one of America's most notable sculptors. He studied with John Quincy Adams Ward and with Thomas Ball in Florence. Among his most notable works are the Minuteman, 1875 (Concord, Mass.); the Milmore Memorial, 1893 (copy at the Metropolitan Museum); the enormous Republic for the 1893 Columbian Exposition (smaller reproduction still standing on the south side of Chicago); the doors of the Boston Public Library, 1904; the Melvin Memorial (Mourning Victory, 1908; copy in the Metropolitan Museum) and the Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial, 1922 (Washington).

Forty-six-year-old Daniel Chester French was pleased to receive this commission not only because it was his first public commission in New York, but because it was awarded by a committee made up of the best architects and artists in New York City, under the auspices of the prestigious Municipal Art Society. The exedra (the semi-circular architectural setting for the bust) was designed by Bruce Price, a student of Hunt's.

Aside from works in the Metropolitan Museum, Manhattan has the Hunt MemorialAlma Mater, and Four Continents. Brooklyn has allegorical figures of Brooklynand Manhattan, ca. 1900 (in front of the Brooklyn Museum), and a lovely relief of Lafayette, 1917 (9th Street entrance to Prospect Park).

Cross References

Copyright (c) 2013 Dianne L. Durante