Adolph Alexander Weinman was one of the most successful and prolific American sculptors of the early twentieth century. He was highly accomplished in architectural, outdoor, and free-standing sculpture, like this bronze version of Narcissus. It is one of four known examples; one version in bronze and another carved in marble can be found at Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. There is also a bronze in the collection of the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida
Born in Karlsruhe, Germany, Weinman settled in New York in 1880 with his widowed mother. He was apprenticed to a wood and ivory carver at the age of fifteen. By the turn of the century, he was studying at Cooper Union School, the Art Students League, and subsequently spent several years in the studios of Philip Martiny, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and Daniel Chester French. Given his native talent and extensive education with and exposure to the leading artists in the field, Weinman developed a mastery of sculptural mediums, genres, and techniques. He opened his own New York studio in 1904 and exhibited that year at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, showing a figurative group entitled The Destiny of the Red Man. In 1906, he became an Associate of the National Academy of Design and an Academician by 1911.
The figure of Narcissus was originally modeled in 1923 and shown in 1926 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where it won the Widener Gold Medal. This casting was commissioned by the artist from Roman Bronze Works in 1948. In a letter to his wife that same year, Weinman mentions a sculpture of Narcissus “at our garden pool.”1 The artist presents this classical subject as a playful centaur, emphasizing the sculpture’s energetic form with his upraised and turning human torso; a head of tousled hair, horns, and a wreath; and a downward glance. His lower horse-half is composed of haunches, hooves, and a tail that reinforces the curvilinear design elements in the figure.
Although Weinman regarded his work in medal and coins with less pride, he was a member of the American Numismatic Society and the designer of the 1916 Mercury dime and Walking Liberty half dollar, as well as numerous military and commemorative medals. Weinman’s sculptural work can be seen on major public buildings and sites throughout the United States. Working for the famed architectural firm McKim, Mead and White, he produced ornamentation and friezes for several other significant New York structures, as well as the sculpture for Pennsylvania Station (demolished in 1966) and the figure of Civic Fame, which stands over nineteen feet on top of the city’s Municipal Building.
One of the largest collections of Weinman’s architectural sculpture can still be seen in Washington, D.C., where he created pediments for the National Archives, United States Postal Services, and Department of Agriculture buildings. For the United States Supreme Court chamber, Weinman rendered friezes portraying Lawgivers of History; Majesty of Law and Power of Government; and Powers of Good and Powers of Evil. He also carved The Drafting of the Declaration of Independence (1943) for the Jefferson Memorial. Weinman’s works can also be found in important national collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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© 2008 Robert M. Hicklin, Jr. Inc.
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