Olin Levi Warner


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Sculptor. A specialist in portrait busts and medallions, he also created ideal subjects. Born in West Suffield, north of Hartford, Connecticut, he spent his early years in upstate Amsterdam, New York, and in Vermont. Aspiring to become a sculptor, he drew in his spare time while working for six years as a telegrapher at several locations in New York and Georgia. In 1869 he departed for Paris, where he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts and worked briefly as an assistant to Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. Among the first sculptors from the United States to train in Paris, he helped to redirect American taste away from the dominant neoclassicism of mid-century toward the livelier, more spontaneous, and more natural Beaux-Arts approach that supplanted it. Upon his return in 1872 he settled permanently in New York. An early member of the progressive Society of American Artists, he had begun by about 1880 to win attention for sensitive portraiture, followed by recognition for several imaginative works. He also received commissions for public monuments and architectural embellishments. At the time of his death following a bicycling accident, he had embarked on the most significant commission of his career: two pairs of bronze doors for the new Library of Congress. The bronze portrait bust of his colleague J. Alden Weir (Metropolitan Museum, 1897–98; modeled 1880) characterizes Warner's French-derived style, an idealizing combination of subtle modeling, lively expression, technical expertise, and individuality. Similarly indebted to contemporary French practice, Warner's seated bronze Diana (Metropolitan Museum, 1897–98; modeled c. 1885–87) ranks among the first American nudes to present the beauty of the unclothed body for its own sake. Despite the classical allusion, only the arrow she absently holds on the ground identifies the literary theme. Warner set up a temporary studio in Portland, Oregon, in the fall of 1889, after receiving a commission for the Skidmore Fountain there and for several portraits. He returned to the Columbia River area in 1891 to complete a distinctive set of eight profile medallions of Northwest American Indian leaders. For the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 he served as a juror, created a number of architectural sculptures, and designed the fair's commemorative half-dollar.

Subjects: Art.

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