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 Jules Leon Butensky  (1871 - 1947)

About: Jules Leon Butensky
 

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Lived/Active: New York / Russian Federation      Known for: portrait sculpture, religious, allegory

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BIOGRAPHY for Jules Butensky
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Birth
1871 (Stolawitz, Russia)
 
Death
1947 (New York, New York)

Lived/Active
New York / Russian Federation

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portrait sculpture, religious, allegory

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Jules Leon Butensky was a sculptor (sometimes incorrectly referred to as "Jules M. Butensky"). Born in Stolawitz (Stolovitch), Russia, Butensky was of Jewish ancestry and received an extremely thorough education, originally planning to become an engineer. This plan was halted after a local artist, a sculptor, suggested that he consider art his profession after viewing several of his drawings.

With this suggestion, Butensky moved in about 1889 to Vienna, Austria where he was accepted into the Imperial Academy of Art and where he studied under the noted artists Rudolph Von Weyr (1847-1914) and Hermann Hellmer (1849-1919). Following his graduation from the Academy he studied privately at a special school for the advanced study of art under the direction of noted sculptor Kaspar Clemens Von Zumbusch (1830-1915). While in Vienna, Butensky was the recipient of several scholarships through the influence of Baron Koenigswarter, Baron Edmond James de Rothschild (1845-1934), and Baron Springer.

After completing his studies with Zumbusch in 1893, Butensky decided he needed further instruction, this time in Paris. Not long after his arrival, he began studying at the French Academy (Academie Julian), notably under the sculptors Antonin (Marius Jean) Mercie (1845-1916) and Alfred Boucher (1850-1934). During this time he exhibited some of his pieces at the Societe des Artistes Francais, perhaps including his work entitled "Nathan der Weise," which received strong attention from critics and was later sold to a private collector in Vienna.

Butensky arrived in America c.1903-04 and settled in New York City. During his early years in America he focused on private commissions from New York's burgeoning upper-middle class. It was during this time that he first began preparations for his most important work, the statue entitled "Universal Peace," which was based on the biblical story of Isaiah. He showed his sketches to one of his admirers, Mr. Louis S. Posner (1878-1975, attorney and long time President of the New Era Club), who was so impressed that he decided to fund the first model of the sculpture.

After the first model was completed, the then president of the International (Universal) Peace Society, William Osborne McDowell (1848-1927), saw it and decided that the image would be the perfect symbol for his various peace campaigns. Noted financier and philanthropist Jacob H. Schiff (1847-1920) also became entranced with the model, and ordered a four-foot tall copy of the work for his own Fifth Avenue residence.

When this copy of the work was completed the president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sir Purdon Clarke (1846-1911), came to view it. He was so impressed with the overall design of the sculpture that he told Jacob Schiff it should be cast in bronze on a larger scale. Not long after, the work was created in monumental size and was presented in 1911 by Schiff to the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art where it remains to this day (though it is currently not on display-2005).

The following year, 1912, was notable for Butensky for two reasons. In January he barely survived a fire that occurred in the building where he had his studio, which was located on the twelfth floor of #32 Union Square. He and several other artisans who also had studio spaces in the building had to be evacuated. Then later that year he was invited to participate in the Downtown Ethical Society's Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture. The show, which took place between February and March 1912, featured Butensky's works in addition to those of George Luks (1867-1933) , Jerome Myers (1867-1940), Max Weber (1881-1961), and several others. It is one of the few shows that we know Butensky participated in.

The remainder of his life seems to have been uneventful for the most part. He relied heavily on private commissions to survive in the fierce New York art world, including the creation of a bronze bust of Dr. George David Stewart (1862-1933). Stewart was the head of the Department of Surgery at the New York University and Bellevue Hospitals. In 1928 the bust was presented by a group of students to the University Medical Center.

By 1930 Butensky was rooming at a Hotel located at 12 West 121st Street in New York City. Though he spent much of his time in New York, for many years he had maintained a studio separate from the one located in Union Square where he worked on larger scale pieces. This second studio was located in the village of Pomona, located in Rockland County, New York.

Butensky was working on a series of Talmudic themed sculptures when he was injured in an accident during the late winter of 1947. Not long thereafter, on February 26, 1947, Jules Leon Butensky died at the age of 76.

Somewhat forgotten after his death, his work is now seeing a resurgence of interest among American and Jewish art collectors. His works are held in many public and private collections, including by the First National Bank, Brooklyn, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York; William H. Seward Park, New York, New York; Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts; The White House, Washington, D. C. (which holds a sculpture entitled "Exile"); the Hebrew Institute, Chicago, Illinois (which holds a bronze group entitled "Goliath"); and by the Institute of Religion at the Skirball Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio.


Written and submitted May 2005 by Geoffrey K. Fleming, Director
Southold Historical Society, Southold, New York




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