Augustin-Alexandre Dumont: General Jose de San Martin Memorial

located on Virginia Avenue, NW, is the General Jose de San Martin Memorial

Augustin-Alexandre Dumont. General Jose de San Martin Memorial. 1925. Bronze. located on Virginia Avenue, NW, in a small park where the avenue intersects with 20th Street NW

Guest Blogger:  Mari

One of five statues located on Virginia Avenue, NW, is the General Jose de San Martin Memorial which resides in a small park where the avenue intersects 20th Street NW. It was originally dedicated in October of 1925 but was rededicated in October of 1985 to commemorate the visit of Argentina’s president, Raul Alfonsin.

The statue, which is in the classical equestrian pose, celebrates the life and accomplishments of General Jose de San Martin. Born in Argentina in 1778, San Martin was educated in Spain and fought in the Spanish military as a young man. He returned to Argentina when word of a revolt against the Spanish colonizers started to spread. After becoming a commander in the Argentinean rebel army, he led Argentina to freedom from Spanish rule in 1812. He then helped Chile and Peru obtain independence in 1818 and 1821. For these deeds he is known as the father of Argentina. To this day, the Order of the Liberator General San Martin is one of the highest honors to receive in that country.

The piece itself is a replica of the original statue located in the Plaza San Martin, Buenos Aires, Argentina which was created by Augustin-Alexandre Dumont, an artist from a long line of French sculptors dating back to 1737. The copy in Washington, D.C. is made of bronze and stands on a tall platform forcing the viewer to look up to the general’s impressive effigy. When the memorial was first dedicated in 1925, it resided on a grassy hill circled by pavement. The platform that the general stood on was decorative and held a bronze relief of the general’s deeds on each side of the platform. A plaque was fixed below the memorial informing the viewer of its importance. When Argentina’s president visited in 1985, the environment around the memorial had changed drastically since the time of the piece’s installment. The memorial underwent significant alterations when a metro station was put beneath the small park the statue inhabits. Since the statue had to be temporarily removed, it was decided that it should also get a makeover. The platform was replaced with slabs of concrete and placed directly on pavement and bricks rather than in the center of a small plot of grass. In addition, a small wall was installed behind the memorial with an inscription comparing General Jose de San Martin to America’s George Washington due to their similar role as bearers of independence.

The memorial physically demonstrates that while times and styles have changed, the ideals held by world democracies have not. Though the memorial itself has undergone change in the past century, the ideals of liberty, democracy, and justice presented by General Jose de San Martin’s life two centuries ago remain relevant in our modern world.

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Dante Costa: José Artigas

Jose Artigas

Dante Costa. Jose Artigas. 1950. Bronze. Located at the Intersection of Constitution Avenue & 18th Street, NW, Washington, DC

Guest Blogger:  Emily

This sculpture of José Artigas, by Dante Costa, is perhaps the most inviting and humanizing likeness of any of the Latin American leaders in the Liberator Series, a set of five statues in D.C. that commemorate  some important figures in the Latin American independence movements. Located on the intersection of Constitution Av. and 18th St., NW, the statue was dedicated on June 19, 1950, as a gift to the United States from Uruguay.
My initial reaction to this work was not solely aesthetic. I wasn’t primarily concerned with its design- Artigas’ open, inviting stance and controlled, warm gaze- or information about the artist. Instead, I questioned the meaning of the sculpture, asking myself “why is this work here? Why is there a statue of a Uruguayan leader in the middle of D.C.? Why would Uruguay send the US a statue of its own founder?”
Curiosity compelled me to look further into Artigas’ background. A brave, passionate man, Artigas led the fight for Uruguayan independence from its Spanish overlords from 1810 to 1820. In 1820, he was forced into exile in Paraguay, where he died years later in 1850.What struck me most about Artigas’ story was the sad irony that he, the father of Uruguayan independence, was unable to bear witness to the glorious fruit of his self-sacrificing labors. When Uruguay finally achieved its independence in 1828, Artigas was in exile, living in a strange country apart from the one he had fought so hard to create.
Though the information I found about Artigas’ background was undoubtedly interesting and inspiring, I still had not yet answered my question: Why D.C.? Diving further into Artigas’ life and personal beliefs, I found my answer. Artigas dedicated his life not only to liberating Uruguay, but also to establishing a democratic system there. During the time of the fight for Uruguayan independence, the United States was the premier example of a successful democratic government system. Artigas was so inspired by the way the Americans ran their government that he carried a copy of the US Constitution with him everywhere he went. Thus, even as Artigas stands in a contrapposto pose, reminiscent of Greek heroes, with his left hand resting on the hilt of his sword, he doffs his hat in respect for the United States, a fitting depiction of the country’s most ardent admirer.

Felix de Weldon: Simon Bolivar

Simon Bolivar

Felix de Weldon. Simon Bolivar. Bronze. 1955. Located at Virginia Ave. NW and C Street, NW, Washington DC.

Guest Blogger:  Amanda

My attention was grabbed as soon I saw Bolivar sitting atop his horse, commanding attention as he thrusts his sword high into the air. The sword’s position is slightly behind him, implying that the liberator is ready to attack as he was in the early 1800’s when he made repeated efforts to liberate Venezuela from Spanish rule.

Austrian-American sculptor Felix de Weldon conveys Bolivar’s dual roles of conqueror and liberator by balancing times of war and later establishing a country in peace. His equestrian pose is used throughout art history to represent the power and authority of a hero. This is shown with the horse’s reigns in one hand and the sword in the other. Because of his apparently confident multitasking, I had the impression that Bolivar could handle the challenge of fighting for independence, even if it meant some personal sacrifice and compromise. In fact, Bolivar spent a number of his adult years plotting to liberate Gran Colombia, which is comprised of present day Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama. An inscription on the base of the equestrian credits Bolivar for this accomplishment.

From the base of the statue to the tip of the sword, the height of the piece stands at 27 feet tall. The height is fitting to Bolivar’s bold manner at a weight of 8 tons. The base is made of black marble, and the equestrian statue is of bronze. The Venezuelan government donated and paid for the sculpture as a gift to America, which was authorized by the United States Congress on July 5th, 1949, and was then permitted to be installed on public property on June 29th, 1955. The work was cast in New York and partly disassembled to travel to DC where it was finally erected in 1958.

The Austrian artist, Felix de Weldon, is most well- known for the sculpture of the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia depicting World War II Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima.. He was a combat artist stationed at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland during World War II and became an up and coming artist that paid tribute to his new home, the United States, when multiple presidents, including Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy appointed de Weldon to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. While de Weldon did not fight in combat and remained on the home front during the war, he understood the powerful duality of war: brutal destruction leading to a prosperous peace. Thus, through de Weldon’s capable hand, Bolivar’s legacy lives on in his sculpture militarily and heroically, as a man who caused destruction in his noble pursuit of peace.

James Earle Fraser: Arts of Peace

Arts of Peace

James Earl Fraser, Arts of Peace, 1930, bronze. Pylon designer by Wm. Mitchell Kendall. Located at the entrance to Arlington Memorial Bridge.

Guest Blogger:  Amanda

When I came around the corner by the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., I spotted two sculptures at the entrance to the Arlington Memorial Bridge, the Arts of Peace. The two bronze figures struck me because of their size and presence at the entrance of the bridge. The figures are larger than life, standing at about 17 feet tall. They each stand atop a pylon with 36 stars going around the edges, representing the number of states in the Union during the Civil War to commemorate the important and evolutionary time period in US history.

The statues show influence from the Neoclassical style. This is especially true of the winged horse, Pegasus, which dominates both statues and represents poetry and poetic inspiration. Other Neoclassical elements include a figure (see image) that can be seen from the cross walk at the entrance of the bridge that represents the art of music. This figure, a woman, is clutching a harp just behind her ear and close to her face. She is protected underneath the wing of the horse, Pegasus, and shifts her weight forward in her right leg away from the harp. On the other side of the horse, which cannot be seen from the image, there is a man with a bundle of wheat representing harvest. Both the woman and the man signify times of peace as opposed to the Arts of War sculptures on the other side of the bridge.  I can envision the music echoing behind her as she moves forward and spreads harmony to those around her.

The creation of the sculpture and dedication of the Arts of Peace was long and extensive. The piece was commissioned in 1930 by the Arlington Memorial Bridge Commission. The Commission selected James Earle Fraser to design the allegorical figures. Though the design was completed much earlier, further progress was delayed until 1935 due to a lack of funding. The models were completed in 1938, however, since bronze was needed for the war, the Commission halted construction again. Finally, in 1949, the Italian government offered to cast the sculptures as a gift to the United States for post World War II aid. The sculptures were dedicated in September of 1951.

Charles Grafly: George Gordon Meade Memorial

George Cordon Meade Memorial

Charles Grafly, executed by the Piccirilli Bros., Marble, 1922. 3rd & Penn. Ave, NW, Washington, DC.

Guest Blogger:  Emily

Usually when I look at a work of art, the first bit of information I look for is the title. After that, I try to find out who the artist is. Occasionally the artist isn’t the person who actually executed the work, particularly in sculpture. So, when I researched the George Gordon Meade Memorial in Washington, D.C., I initially looked much further into the artist, Charles Grafly, than the people that actually carved the memorial, a New York based group called the Piccirilli Brothers. Then I became curious about the Piccirilli Brothers.

With further research and much to my surprise, the Piccirilli Brothers are actually behind some of the most well-known sculptures in America. In addition to executing Grafly’s model for the Meade Memorial, the brothers also carved the enormous statue of President Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial In Washington, DC and the famous Lions that guard the doorway of the New York Public Library.

The brothers hailed from Tuscany, an Italian region well-known for producing masterful marble carvers such as Michelangelo. As young men they immigrated to America in 1888, and established a studio in the Bronx. Their studio in New York became the “go-to” spot for artists looking for craftsmen to turn their models into sculpture, replacing the former practice of American artists sending their models to Italy to be carved.

The Meade Memorial, dedicated in 1922, spectacularly combines the Piccirilli’s flawless execution with Grafly’s remarkable design. Grafly designed the memorial as a feat of allegorical genius; General Meade commands the statue at the front, flanked by Energy, Military Courage, Progress, Loyalty, Chivalry, and Fame, with War claiming the opposite side. Famous for his leadership of the Union forces during the Civil War, particularly in the Battle of Gettysburg, Meade is represented here striding out of his war-cloak and gazing boldly ahead at a new vision for peace and reconstruction in the war-torn United States. Yet his hands reach back towards War, suggesting that the once more “United” States must remember the tragic lessons of the fatal clashes between North and South as she moves onto the path towards prosperity.