Augustus Saint–Gaudens (American, 18481907)
Bronze; 13 1/2 x 16 7/8 in. (34.3 x 42.9 cm)
Purchase, Morris K. Jesup Fund and Mr. and Mrs. Richard J. Schwartz Gift, 1994 (1994.50)
Saint-Gaudens modeled this profile portrait of two-year-old Rodman de Kay Gilder (18771953) in September 1879, while the boy visited Paris with his parents, Helena de Kay and Richard Watson Gilder. After completing an ambitious composition of the family (2002.445) in May, Saint-Gaudens depicted Rodman alone. Gilder later had a career as an author and editor, and in 1911 married Comfort Tiffany, daughter of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Beginning in the late 1870s, Saint-Gaudens began to experiment with the sketch technique in bas-relief, so that, in effect, loosely modeled clay approximated the fluidity of painted pigment. Saint-Gaudens was one of this style's most successful practitioners, and Rodman de Kay Gilder represents its apogee. Rodman's cherubic head is rendered slightly off center, alone against an expanse of bronze. Disdainful of what he called the "drop of wax effect," Saint-Gaudens modeled the boy's flowing curls so that they melt into an undulating background, while the facial profile is gently resolved against the two-dimensional support. Another formal device that effectively relates figure to ground is the pattern of etched lines scored horizontally across the bronze field. The wispiness of these striations echoes the swirling, feathery treatment of Rodman's hair, enlivening the overall effect. The sum of partsportrait head, etched background, lettering, and framing cornice-like moldingsis assimilated into a simple, refined statement. The result is intimate and charming, upholding Saint-Gaudens' reputation as a virtuoso sculptor of reliefs.