V.p. 1902-1910. Ink on paper, each sheet approx. 9 x 7 in., 1-4 sheets each, variously paginated, one with orig. envelope. Item #List306
Celebrated American Beaux-Arts sculptor Frederick MacMonnies (1863-1937) studied with Augustus Saint-Gaudens and many of his best commissions emerged from his relationships with Saint-Gaudens and the architect Stanford White. He lived primarily in France but traveled frequently to New York and was part of a circle of artists that formed around White at Edwin Booth’s Players Club in Gramercy Park and the Saint-Gaudens summer colony in New Hampshire. Artist Thomas Dewing was another Saint-Gaudens student and MacMonnies’ close friend.
Two of the three letters discuss an important commission for the Players Club: a memorial sculpture for famed actor Edwin Booth. The memorial became a flash point for changing American tastes and a harbinger of MacMonnies’ declining fortunes. His original proposal was an elaborate and symbolic design at odds with the new fashion for modern and simplified ornament espoused by artists like Dewing. In a lengthy letter here MacMonnies provides a passionate defense for Beaux-Art symbolism in favor of the modernizing taste of many of his colleagues.
In an earlier letter from January 1910, MacMonnies attests the commission has left him “nervous” and in “a collapsed state” but grateful for Dewing’s “uplifting letter.” Then, in May of the same year, MacMonnies provides his lengthy appeal to Dewing to be allowed to continue the commission and asks for help convincing the committee. "Simplicity, when it calls attention to itself, can be as offensive as any other form of pretension... Besides all this, the Theatre and Actors deal in rich costumes, fabulous scenery, richness and riot of color and form... What might naturally appear overloaded or overenriched or complicated in a preliminary sketch in sculpture, may in the finished production appear clear and simple... In making the model for the final work, I should naturally aim by every science of the art I may have acquired, to make the monument imposing, simple and impressive without losing the richness which should go with the subject.”
Though MacMonnies closes his letter, “I am desperately sickened at the thought of having it fall into the list of things not done,” he eventually quit the project and artist Edmond Quinn’s simplified Booth monument was chosen (including the actor’s representation as Hamlet on a “Morris chair” lamented by MacMonnies in his letter).
A well preserved collection in excellent condition.