Barry Flanagan: Thinker on a Rock

Thinker on a Rock

Barry Flanagan, Thinker on a Rock. Bronze. 1997. National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC

Guest Blogger:  Amanda

While The Thinker was crafted by Rodin around 1880, Welsh sculptor Barry Flanagan sculpted his own Thinker on a Rock inspired by Rodin’s work about a century later in 1997. Cast in bronze, a hare, not a man, with an elongated and thin form, sits atop a rock in the National Gallery’s Sculpture Garden. The hare’s long ears seem to extend upwards with its lanky, thin body hunched over in contemplation. While it may at first seem odd and unusual that a hare is sitting in such a humanlike position, Flanagan is actually known for his hare motif, which dominates his sculptures that are displayed in cities including Washington, D.C., London, Madrid, Dublin, and Chicago.

Barry Flanagan did not always sculpt hares. Initially, he sculpted with materials such as clay and sand after studying in London during the 1960’s. It was not until the late 1970’s that the artist met his inspiration when he saw a hare running on a field in England. He was interested in the elastic and elongated qualities of the hare, and this became his central and distinctive focus for the next three decades, which is not surprising given his reputation for being a unique artist of his time. With this said,  Flanagan set himself apart from his peers by focusing on theater and installation arts instead of Minimalist and Conceptual Art.  Neither artist nor viewer can deny the humor in the hare form being likened to human poses and characteristics. Flanagan certainly saw the humor and wit in depicting such a serious pose by Rodin and transforming it into animal form.

When walking up to the sculpture in the National Gallery’s Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., there is something odd yet comforting about seeing a hare in human form. The hare rests its chin upon its hand and its elbow upon its knee as humans so often do when lost in thought. Its long ears stretch in each direction, balancing the lanky form of the hare’s arms and legs. The eyes of the hare seem to stare back at the viewer in contemplation of what it is thinking as well as in uncertainty of the viewer. While this depiction is humorous in comparison to Rodin’s piece, Flanagan’s use of the hare form does have its ways of grabbing the viewer’s attention, getting them to stop, and think for a moment.


Dying Gaul

Dying Gaul

Dying Gaul. Roman, 1st or 2nd century CE. Marble

The Dying Gaul has arrived in Washington, DC.  The work of art is currently on view at the National Gallery of Art until March 16, 2014.  It is on loan from the Capitoline Museum in Rome, Italy.  The Italian ambassador and the mayor of Rome were on hand to unveil the Dying Gaul in Washington, DC in December.  Their goal is to share the treasures of Italian culture with us.

This piece is truly a masterpiece. It takes my breath away!!!  Looking at the proud warrior one can see that he does not want to succumb to his death.  His right arm is tense as it holds up his injured body as evidenced by the wound on his chest.  His pride is at battle with his body. Yet he is a barbarian, a Gaul, an enemy of the Greeks. He wears a torque around his neck, his hair is snakelike as he probably washed it with lime, and he wears a mustache.  His muscled ideal body tells us what a worthy opponent he is. His body is in motion and he evokes a strong emotion— all characteristics of the Hellenistic period of art.

The Dying Gaul is placed in the Rotunda of the National Gallery of Art.  It was crowded the day my family was there.  I listened to many comments from people around me, “There are four others just like this in Athens”, “I saw this in Florence, Italy at the Pitti Palace” and “This is beautiful”.  Yes, I must agree it is beautiful.  Although we are viewing it differently than people did 2,000 years ago, it was originally painted and today no visible paint remains.  This work of art is a Roman copy created in marble after the bronze original sculpture, now lost, created in the third century BCE.

This is the first time the sculpture has left Italy since its last journey in 1797.  Napoleon III took the sculpture to Paris where it was displayed at the Louvre.  It was returned to Rome in 1816 and that is where it has remained until coming to Washington, DC.

Don’t miss seeing it.  It is a chance to see this masterpiece in the United States.  The American context as opposed to the Capitoline Museum enhanced the importance of the work of art in art history.  In Rome, it sits in the center of a room at the top of the stairs filled with other marble works.  If you walked by the room, you would miss it. Not here, the National Gallery of Art has given it the place it deserves.  You know when you are in the Rotunda you are seeing an important work of art.  This warrior deserves this place of grandeur.

James Earle Fraser: John Ericsson National Memorial

john ericson

Guest Blogger:  Amanda

On a Tuesday summer afternoon, I visited Washington D.C. with a fellow student and friend. We explored sculpture throughout the National Mall area, and at one point, we took a look at the John Ericsson National Memorial which is located at the center of a traffic circle. At first glance, I thought that the artwork represented a narrative about a goddess rather than a naval engineer’s accomplishments. After my friend and I made a brave effort to cross the busy intersection, we took a closer look at the sculpture and read about John Ericsson.

John Ericsson was a Swedish born engineer and inventor who famously helped the United States, or specifically the Union Navy during the Civil War. He developed the screw propeller which improved a ship’s ability to travel long distances. He designed the ship, the USS Monitor, which aided the US Navy blockade efforts against the Confederacy ensuring their naval supremacy.

The sculpture stands twenty feet tall and is made of pink Milford granite. Ericsson is depicted as a seated figure at a height of 6 feet and 5 inches, over life-size. The three standing figures above him represent adventure, labor, and vision, which were three important factors in creating his innovations. It was dedicated in the spring of 1926 in Washington, D.C. by President Calvin Coolidge and Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden. Congress authorized the construction for the memorial and gave $35,000 towards the project. Additional funding came from Americans of Scandinavian descent who contributed $25,000. It is located near the National Mall at Ohio Drive and Independence Ave SW.

The sculptor, James Earle Fraser, was a well-known American artist who began his education at the Art Institute of Chicago and who has created several sculptures of famous figures in United States History. He sculpted both the Benjamin Franklin Memorial in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the Alexander Hamilton Monument at the United States Treasury in Washington, D.C.. He came from a frontier background in Minnesota and had a respect for engineering because his father worked on expanding railroads out west. He seems to have taken special interest in figures that made contributions to American innovation and portrayed their significance in sculpture as a way to pay respect and gratitude.


Roman Portrait Busts

Portrait Busts

Roman Portrait Busts, Marble, Capitoline Museum. Rome

Flavian Woman

Flavian Woman, 80 CE, Marble

Walking through the Capitoline Museum and the Vatican Museum in Rome recently I saw rooms filled with portrait busts.  Roman sculptors created portrait busts of emperors, their families, gods, goddesses, generals, women, children, etc.  But what interested me as I looked closer at the works of art were the portrait busts of women.  There were so many and each one was very different.  Each one seemed to represent a specific woman in facial features and character but also each had a different hairstyle. The Roman women seemed to be preoccupied with the style of their hair.  I observed that the hair was intricately formed using all kinds of braids, bangs, curls, and hair pulled up in different ways.  For example, Livia, wife of Augustus, has a different hairstyle in each of her portrait busts.  One that really caught my eye was the Flavian Woman in the Capitoline Museum. It was placed all by itself in front of a window which enables the viewer to walk around the work of art.  Her hair has beautiful curls in the front but it was the back that interested me.  Her hair is almost like a cap on the back of her head but looking further I noticed she must have had very long hair.  Her hair is braided and coiled as it is pulled up.  This is something she could not have done by herself.  She must have been a wealthy woman to have someone take care of this for her.  Also remember this work and the others would have been painted. The figures would have looked so much more alive!