Augustus Saint–Gaudens (American, 18481907)
Bronze; 20 3/8 x 7 3/4 in. (51.8 x 19.7 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer, 1917 (17.104)
Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer (18511934) was a versatile critic and author who steadfastly promoted the development of the arts of the United States during the Gilded Age. She reviewed several public sculptures by Saint-Gaudens, including the Farragut Monument (187780; Madison Square Park, New York) and the Standing Lincoln (188487; Lincoln Park, Chicago). During the 1880s, Saint-Gaudens and Van Rensselaer developed a friendship based on admiration for each other's work and a desire to improve the climate for art in America.
In this relief plaque, Saint-Gaudens has depicted his sitter within a rectangular frame, with her head and shoulders facing left in bust-length profile. Van Rensselaer wears a high Victorian collar and her hair is braided in a twist. Saint-Gaudens made full use of the textural possibilities of the bronze medium by modeling her dress with a lively surface and contrasting it with her smoothly polished skin. Above Van Rensselaer's head is inscribed ANIMUS NON OPUS (The spirit, not the work), a maxim in accord with the aesthetic ideals of both the sculptor and the sitter. Henry-Bonnard Bronze Company, a leading New York foundry, produced the Museum's cast in 1890. It is further enhanced by a carved oak frame designed by architect Stanford White. The frame provides a handsome complement to the bronze portrait; above, a shell flanked by two floral medallions echoes the rosettes at the bottom of the relief. Egg-and-dart and beaded carving border the bronze, and cornucopias ornament the bottom portion of the frame.