George Grey Barnard


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Sculptor. An individualistic romantic inspired particularly by the work of Michelangelo, he employed symbolic figures to explore the human condition. Unlike most sculptors of his day, he rarely accepted portrait commissions and completed only one public monument to an individual, Abraham Lincoln (Lytle Park, Cincinnati, 1911–17). Barnard also pioneered an enthusiasm for medieval art before its quality was widely recognized. His extensive collections of Romanesque and Gothic antiquities eventually formed the basis of the Cloisters, an upper Manhattan outpost of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He also accumulated an important portion of the Philadelphia Museum of Art's medieval holdings. In his sculpture, he forged an expressive style of somewhat generalized naturalism. His best-known work, the heroic Struggle of the Two Natures in Man (Metropolitan Museum, 1892–94; modeled 1888), evokes the immemorial contest between physical and spiritual being. Inspired by Victor Hugo's poetry, this complex interplay of solids and surrounding spaces features two larger than life-size male nudes carved by the artist himself from a single block of marble. This unusual subject avoids the bland allegory of much contemporary sculpture, but its realization fails to equal the formal power and psychological conviction of Rodin's similarly conceived symbolic enterprises of the same period. Born in the central Pennsylvania town of Bellefonte, Barnard lived as a child in several midwestern communities, principally Kankakee, Illinois, for eight years. At the Chicago Academy of Design (now the School of the Art Institute of Chicago), where he began his artistic training in 1880, casts of Michelangelo's work captured his imagination. In 1883 he departed for Paris, where he studied for the first three years at the École des Beaux-Arts. After earning his first public acclaim with Two Natures and other works in 1894, he relocated to New York. There, his approach out of step with prevailing taste, he received few of the public commissions that absorbed other major French-trained sculptors of his day. For the most significant undertaking of his career, he was engaged in 1902 to produce a grand ensemble of marble allegorical figures (1902–10; installed 1911) to adorn the Pennsylvania state capitol in Harrisburg. Incorporating his own convictions, the imagery of some thirty over-life-size figures in two groups, Burden of Life: The Broken Law and Love and Labor: The Unbroken Law, represents complex and exalted notions of personal and social virtue. He departed for France in 1903 to carry out the project while living near Paris. Reflecting his idealism, his liberal and humanitarian political orientation, his penchant for the grandiose, and his growing isolation from mainstream art culture, in the aftermath of World War I Barnard designed a massive sculpture park devoted to peace. However, it failed to attract support. Forced to abandon the plan in 1924, he nevertheless continued for many years to work on its central element. Again employing a figurative vocabulary to explore abstract notions, the colossal Rainbow Arch (plaster model, 1933) included more than fifty monumental figures in a Rodinesque ensemble dedicated to the human costs of war and benefits of peace.


Subjects: Art.

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