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 Robert Tait McKenzie  (1867 - 1938)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania/Ontario / Canada      Known for: sculptor-athletic figure

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Ad Code: 3
Robert Tait McKenzie
from Auction House Records.
The Plunger, a Male Diver
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A long-time resident of Philadelphia, Robert Tait McKenzie was a noted sculptor of realist figures. One of his most famous works was "The Boy Scout," which he completed in 1937 for his good friend, Lord Baden Powell who founded the Boy Scouts of America. In addition to being a sculptor, he was also a scouter, a scholar-athlete, a surgeon, a soldier, and physical educator.

Robert Tait McKenzie was born in 1867, in Ramsay Township, Lanark County, Ontario, Canada, where his father, William McKenzie, emigrated to Canada from Kelso, Scotland, in 1858 and became minister of the Free Church of Scotland in Almonte. Tait's father died when he was nine, and the family could no longer live in the church manse. Young Tait's character was profoundly affected when his late father's congregation, out of affection for his mother and respect for her late husband, built a house for the young family.

He entered McGill in 1885, while an undergraduate there, McKenzie showed his promise when he won the All-round Gymnastic Championship. He was the Canadian Intercollegiate Champion in the high jump, a good hurdler, a first-rate boxer, and a member of the varsity football team. His two athletic specialties were swimming and fencing.

He attained fame in the medical world at large by his original ideas on the treatment of scoliosis. In these early years Dr. McKenzie painted in watercolor as a hobby, to relax him. As an aid to his lectures in anatomy he made four experimental models of the progress of fatigue over the nerves and muscles of the face of an athlete, showing successively Effort, Breathlessness, Fatigue, and Exhaustion. He soon took to sculpture.

From 1894 to 1904, McKenzie in addition to his work in the Department of Anatomy at McGill and his many other activities, was also Medical Director of Physical Training, the first appointment of its kind in Canada. Dr. McKenzie became Head of the new Department of Physical Education at Penn in 1904, and as a full professor on the medical faculty. Later in 1931, he asked to be relieved of his duties at the University to devote more time to his sculpturing, although he still lectured at Pennsylvania.

Dr. McKenzie served England, the United States, and Canada during World War I, as a pioneer in the physical-mental rehabilitation of the severely wounded. He applied to the Royal Army Medical Corps in which he was granted a commission first as a lieutenant and later as a major. McKenzie had written the textbooks on Physical training, and was sent on a tour of inspection of training camps and hospitals.

McKenzie used sculpture to illustrate points before his classes in anatomy. He continued it in the course of his physical education to teach his students and athletes how, for example, to crouch for the sprint or plunge, how to hold the discus, or how to take the hurdles. It became increasingly apparent that his figures had a beauty as well as utility. For years he was a participant and exhibitor in the competition of fine arts at the Olympic games. For the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm he designed his famous plaque of three hurdlers known as the Joy of Effort of which the original is set into the wall of the Stockholm stadium and for which he received the King's Medal from the King of Sweden.

McKenzie was convinced that through art, one could portray ideals of physical development. His works were anatomically accurate, and before World War I, he was recognized as the greatest sculptor of athletic youth. After the war, his war memorials brought forth his most magnificent contributions to mankind. Dr. McKenzie's work may be found at the University of Pennsylvania; Red Cross Building, Washington, D.C.; Girard College War Memorial, Philadelphia; Woodbury, New Jersey; Cambridge, England; Edinburgh, Scotland; Ottawa, Canada; University of Tennessee, Knoxville; and many of them at Almonte, Ontario.

During his last years, he purchased a historic mill near Almonte, Ontario, close to his boyhood home. He bought an old stone grist mill, Baird's Mill, in which he had played as a boy with his friends. With his wife's help, they converted the mill into a summer home and studio, where they collected and placed many of his dearest possessions and originals of some of his most famous works. It was renamed the Mill of Kintail and now stands as a memorial to Robert Tait McKenzie.


1) Robert Tait McKenzie and The Mill of Kintail, Major James Farquharson Leys, (1955) Ottawa*
2) R. Tait McKenzie, The Sculptor of Athletes, Kozar, Andrew J., (1975) Knoxville, TN
3) "The Boy Scout", Story of the McKenzie Statue, Turner Moon, (1977) Philadelphia, PA*
4) The Joy of Effort, A Biography of R. Tait McKenzie, Jean S. McGill, (1980) Toronto
5) Robert Tait McKenzie (1867 - 1938) Sculpture Of Athletes, Richard Grayburn, (1988) Calgary
6) The Sport Sculpture of R. Tait McKenzie, Andrew J. Kozar, (1992) Champaign, IL

* courtesy of the Cradle of Liberty Council, Philadelphia, PA 19103-1085

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

Robert McKenzie is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Olympic Artists
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915

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