City Beautiful Movement (part 2)
(See also part 1 and part 3)
Sculpture produced during the City Beautiful movement of the 1890s to 1910s aimed to improve passers-by. The Pulitzer Memorial Fountain was intended to elevate them by its beauty. The Surrogate's Court was meant to edify viewers by showing historical figures who were worthy of emulation, and the values and technical achievements that would bring future progress.
Herewith, a list of sculptures on the Surrogate's Court, as identified in the indispensable Art Commission and Municipal Art Society Guide to Manhattan's Outdoor Sculpture (Gayle & Cohen), with brief comments from the equally indispensable Encyclopedia of New York City.
Facing Chambers St., best viewed from the plaza east of City Hall
Flanking the main entrance
- Above: New York in Its Infancy, by Philip Martiny. New York (the central figure) wears a crown representing royal rule, and carries books and a paper; to the left and right of her are an Indian and a Dutch settler.
- Above: New York in Revolutionary Times, also by Philip Martiny. New York wears a helmet, carries a torch in her left hand, and rests her right on a globe. To the left, a British soldier stands before a shield bearing the motto of Great Britain. To the right, a woman in 18th-century garb holding flowers stands before a shield bearing the Stars and Stripes. (For more figures of the Revolutionary era, see the Walking Tour of Figures from American History Active Before 1800.)
On the cornice above the fifth floor
All by Philip Martiny.
- David Pietersen De Vries (wearing baggy breeches), Dutch mariner, merchant and patroon who established colonies on Staten Island (1639) at at Tappan (1640). After both were ravaged by Indians De Vries returned to Holland, where he wrote the Korte Historiael (1655), a valuable source for the history of New Netherlands.
- Caleb Heathcote (robed and bewigged), mayor of New York 1711-1714. After emigrating from England in 1692 he served on the governor's council, as a colonel of militia, and surveyor-general of customs for the northern colonies. In 1701 he was granted the manor of Scarsdale (in Westchester County), the last manor granted in the British colonies.
- De Witt Clinton (in a cutaway coat and cape), who was serving either as mayor of New York City or governor of New York State for most of the quarter-century between 1803 and 1828. He was the driving force behind the Erie Canal, which made New York the dominant seaport and commercial center in the United States. Another sculpture of him is at the Museum of the City of New York, described in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan.
- Abram Stevens Hewitt (in a long frock coat), mayor of New York 1887-1888, son-in-law of Peter Cooper, industrialist, active in the campaign against "Boss" Tweed in the 1870s. He was remembered for his attempts to improve municipal services and to end corruption in city politics.
- Philip Hone (in a cutaway coat), mayor of New York 1825-1826, best known as an indefatigable diarist whose entries cover 1826-1851.
- Peter Stuyvesant (baggy Dutch breeches and a peg leg), last director-general of New Netherlands 1647-1664. Read Shorto's Island at the Center of the World for a good portrait. Another sculpture of Stuyvesant stands in Stuyvesant Square.
- Cadwallader David Colden (late 18th-c. knee-length coat and waistcoat), mayor of New York 1818-1821, district attorney, militia leader in the War of 1812, member of the State senate. He was grandson of prominent naturalist Cadwallader Colden (d. 1776).
- James Duane (also late 18th-c. coat and waistcoat, carrying a cape), mayor of New York 1784-1789. He was the first mayor appointed after the British evacuation in 1783 and was instrumental in the city's rapid recovery after its devastation during the Revolutionary War. A noted lawyer and jurist, he was a delegate to the first and second Continental Congresses, and United States district judge for the district of New York 1789-1794.
On the roof
By Henry Kirke Bush-Brown; moving from lower to upper figures
- Maternity (woman holding a child) and Heritage (man instructing a squirming child), on either side of a triple window just above Hewitt and Hone.
- Spring, Summer, Winter, Autumn, caryatids flanking the round attic window
- Philosophy, a semi-reclining, older, bearded male figure on the far left of the round window, looking at a skull (?)
- Poetry, a semi-reclining, younger male figure on the far right of the round window, with scrolls on his lap, holding a profile portrait head on a shield (?)
- Childhood, two children flanking an empty cartouche above the round window
East Facade, facing Centre St.
Cornice: all female figures, swathed in classical drapery, by Philip Martiny
- Chemistry, looking at an square object in her hand, with a mechanical contraption at her feet
- Medicine, with a pile of books topped by a skull at her feet
- Navigation, with an anchor and rope at her feet
- Industrial Art, with two elaborately decorated vases
- Architecture, with an architectural model of a Greek temple at her feet
Originally flanking the east entrance
- Equity (Authority?) and Justice (Philip Martiny), moved behind the New York County Court House when Centre St. was widened.
East facade, dormer
Recorder and Keeper of Rolls (referring to the building's original function as Hall of Records), by Henry Kirke Bush-Brown
North Facade, facing Reade St.
Cornice figures, by Philip Martiny
- Iron Age
North facade, around the central window on the attic roof
- Instruction, on the upper right
- Study, upper left
- Law, lower right (a bearded old man)
- History, lower left
West facade, facing Elk St.
- Industry, a semi-reclining male figure, on the left above the triple window
- Commerce, a semi-reclining female figure, on the right above the triple window
Surrogate's Court sculptures as didactic art
Alas, the Surrogate's Court sculptures fail miserably in their didactic purpose. They're too high and there are far too many of them for the viewer to make sense of the message of the whole. Particularly disruptive is the elaborate drapery on the allegorical cornice figures on the east and north sides, which makes it almost impossible to see the attributes (the gizmos, the props) that should allow the viewer to identify each figure.
The sculptors can't be blamed for the fact that later, taller buildings overshadow some of the sculpture on the Surrogate's Court. They can be blamed for not noticing that Lower Manhattan's streets are narrow, and that its buildings were becoming ever taller. The earliest skyscrapers began to appear in the 1870s or 1880s, three or four decades before the Surrogate's Court was completed.
- For an example of complex allegorical figures brilliantly executed and yes, highly visible, walk down Broadway to visit Daniel Chester French's Continents at the Customs House, just south of Bowling Green. The figures have enough attributes to make them easily identifiable – yet the attributes never overwhelm the figure. See Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan.
- For more on the architecture of the Surrogate's Court (inside and out), go here.