I've been having enough trouble with posts lately to make me move the blog. Maybe it's my incompetence with Blogger, but very little seems to be going right with the layout and fonts especially and it's driving me nuts.
I am continuing the blog at a WordPress site:
Mirror on Manhattan
For the time being, I have reposted the last post there and will continue at that address.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
It was still early in the war when the first talk of memorials began, though it wasn’t until 1918 when ideas started coming in a big way. Maybe in 1915 there was the feeling that the war would be over quickly after a few decisive battles, and by mid-1918 there was a more realistic feeling that the beginning of the end of the Central Powers was close at hand.
In April, 1915, with the war barely eight months old, there was already talk of the memorials that would be raised in commemoration of the conflict. The Journal of the American Institute of Architects, commenting on a piece in the British journal The Builder, seemed not to favor “war” memorials at all, but if we must have them, please no more disfiguring “soldier’s monuments.” The editors suggest a central body of authority where architects and sculptors can be represented to pass judgment on the design of memorials. And maybe we’ve reached the state where war shouldn’t be memorialized as a valorous and praiseworthy achievement, anyway. The great artists of the world could do better by symbolizing peace rather than war in their memorials. “War should be the shame of the world, not its glory.”
"Gloria Victis" (http://creativecommons.orglicensesby-sa3.0)
In July of 1918, with the general feeling that the war could not go on much longer, The American Magazine of Art published a paper (entitled “War Monuments” and praised by the New York Times) that had been presented by Adeline Adams at the annual convention of the American Federation of the Arts two months earlier.
|Cenotaph of General de Lemoricière (© Guillaume Piolle CC-BY-3.0)|
In the matter of memorials, she observed, our art (like that of other nations) has a long way to go. “Taste and the tomb often remain strangers. . . . Our war monuments, if no others, should escape that ban because war monuments at their best do not deal with death at all, their part being rather to declare the glory and fullness of life.” The end of the Civil War saw “the beginning of an endless chain of soldiers monuments, a travesty and a plague in every town. From the sublime in emotion we passed to the ridiculous in sculpture. . . . It is our sacred duty to prevent national emotion from proliferating either into vast shapeless memorials or mean portrait statues.” To defeat the Teutonic dream of world power “we ourselves need . . . a vision of our own . . . of human rights with justice as master. . . . In this large ideal our art must share, if she is fitly to honor Pershing’s crusaders with her monuments and medals.”
| "The Angel of Death" (http://www.metmuseum.org)|
Among the sculptors and monuments she mentions approvingly are Antonin Mercié (Gloria Victis), Paul Dubois (Cenotaph of General de Lemoricière), Daniel Chester French (Angel of Death), and Ivan Mestrovic’s works in general. As the photos here show, she set the bar high, too high, perhaps, for New York City, although, considering that many of the city’s war memorials were placed by private organizations, some good work did manage to be produced. Adeline Adams (1859-1948) herself was a writer on American art and the wife of Herbert Adams, a noted American sculptor.
Seeing just the name Adeline Adams, and noting that she was close to 60 years old at the time of her presentation, and noting also that this was 1918, I was picturing her as a character in a Helen Hokinson cartoon from the The New Yorker, something out of Babbitt or Main Street. But anyone who at that time could appreciate the work of Ivan Mestrovic ["The genius of the Serbian race is well told in these works, perhaps not half so rough-hewn as they seem."] was an art critic to be reckoned with. I could not find a photo of Adeline Adams but I think there is a bust of her by her husband at the Hispanic Society of America uptown that I will try to track down..
|Ivan Mestrovic au musée Rodin (dalbera from Paris, France)|
Perhaps the first structure in New York City around this time that could be designated a memorial was placed in Madison Square in September, 1918. This was the "Altar of Liberty," designed by Thomas Hastings of the firm of Carrere and Hastings and erected to publicize the 4th Liberty Loan campaign that aimed at raising $6,000,000,000 to carry on the war. It was dedicated on September 28, 1918, by Vice President Thomas R. Marshall. (That slender tower in the left background is one of the incarnations of Madison Square Garden, the one where Stanford White, the noted architect, had been murdered by Harry Thaw only twelve years earlier.) Had they known the war would be over in forty-four days, they might have saved themselves the trouble.
|"Altar of Liberty" Madison Square (The American Architect)|
The New York Tribune expressed the general sentiment thus:
In New York the dedication of the Altar of Liberty, at the gateway of the Avenue of the Allies, which starts at Madison Square, crystallized the whole spirit of idealism which is animating the nation’s fighting men on freedom’s frontier overseas and the aroused civilian population at home. (New York Tribune, Sept. 29, 1918)
The Avenue of the Allies was the name given to 5th Avenue beginning at Madison Square (around 25th St.) and going uptown. Below is a black & white photo of the Avenue of the Allies looking north from 34th St. (that's B. Altman's department store on the right). Since these old photographs remind me of Dorothy before she left for Oz, see further below a painting by Childe Hassam, "Allies Day, May, 1917," that gives a much better idea of the color and pageantry of the avenue at the time.
|Avenue of the Allies looking north from 34th St. (The American Architect)|
|"Allies Day, May, 1917" by Childe Hassam (The National Gallery of Art)|
To end this particular post: In July, 1918, also, the American Federation of Arts resolved that the designs of war medals be approved by the Federal Commission of Fine Arts before being authorized by Congress. “Our sculptors will jump at the chance to do their best for the men at the front.” (The American Architect, July 3, 1918)
So, already, there was a feeling, at least among the art establishment, that the erection of war memorials ought to be watched pretty damn carefully and certainly not be left to those whom H.L. Mencken would soon christen the “booboisie.” Interestingly it wasn't long before the city actively solicited ideas from the booboisie when it was apparent that the elite could not come to any agreement respecting a memorial.
Next time, the cast of characters, or at least some of the major players, in the comedy of the New York City Memorial to The Great War. Artists, architects, mayors, newspaper magnates, and mercantile princes, among others.