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 George Grey Barnard  (1863 - 1938)

/ BAHR-nerd/
About: George Grey Barnard
 

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania/New York      Known for: realistic figure sculpture, architectural decoration

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Ad Code: 3
George Grey Barnard
from Auction House Records.
A Marble Bust of Abraham
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Credited with much originality for breaking away from the prevalent Beaux Arts tradition of idealized sculpture with themes removed from daily life, George Grey Barnard created highly personalized, expressive figure work influenced in style by Rodin and Michelangelo. He devoted his career to work that spoke of basic human motivations, primitive instincts, and psychological complexities.

Much of his early sculpture is in an Impressionist style, but his later figures are more smoothly stylized and simplified in a somewhat abstract manner. One of his most famous sculptures is The Struggle of the Two Natures of Man, which depicts over life-size nude male figures, one lying down and the other standing on him. He carved the work carved from a single block of marble, and the finished piece symbolizes a young man casting off his former life to reach out to the greater universe.

Barnard was from Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, and grew up in the Middle West. He attended classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and in 1883 went to Paris where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and won the patronage of Alfred Corning Clark who commissioned his earliest works including The Struggle of the Two Natures of Man, based on a quote from Victor Hugo, which, translated into English read, "I feel two natures within me." This piece made his reputation when shown in 1894 at the Paris Salon and praise was given by Auguste Rodin as well as critics. From that point, he was a celebrity in Europe and the United States.

The most important commission of his career was decorations for the Pennsylvania State Capitol at Harrisburg. He did the work in France between 1904 and 1910, and it was a panorama of allegorical figures representing virtues and vices. The unveiling was October 4, 1911 on what the state named "Barnard Day," and he was awarded a large sum of money for the work.

He was also a teacher of the direct-carving method at the Art Students League in New York, and an art collector of French antiquities. His collection became the basis of the Cloisters, a New York City museum devoted to medieval collections.

Sources:
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Donald Martin Reynolds, Masters of American Sculpture

Biography from Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee:
George Grey Barnard was a sculptor hailed as the Michelangelo of his time. Although he was born in Bellefonte, PA, his family moved to the Midwest when he was 3 years old. From boyhood, he was interested in creating form with his hands. He worked as a taxidermist and an engraver before entering the Chicago Art Institute at age 19. It was at this time Barnard first encountered the works of the Renaissance master Michelangelo, who henceforth became his idol and source of emulation.

Within a year at the Art Institute, Barnard had sold a portrait bust of a child for $300, which gave him enough funding to set off for Paris to advance his artistic training. Like most artists of his generation, Barnard studied for four years at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in the Academic tradition of art. At the Ecole, he lived as a recluse totally obsessed with his sculpting and impoverished conditions, a further analogy to his Renaissance counterpart.

Barnard’s first patron was Alfred Corning Clark of Singer Manufacturing Company fortune. Clark commissioned several monumental sculptures from Barnard, including the famous The Two Natures of Man, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After the death of his patron in 1896, Barnard suffered financial difficulties. His career was revived in 1902 with the commission for the sculptural groups at the Pennsylvania Capitol. Immediately, Barnard set about sketching the sculptural groups in clay. The Capitol groups represent a significant component to Barnard’s artistic evolution. He later said “in that plan I had concentrated a life of study and thought.” As soon as the iconographic program and general design for the Capitol sculpture were worked out, Barnard set off for France to begin the 27 eight-foot high final figures.

Barnard acquired a love of art from the Middle Ages during his years in France and spent much of his spare time buying and searching for medieval antiques. Barnard was able to help pay for supplies he needed to complete the Capitol sculptures by collecting antiques and selling them to wealthy patrons in the states. Over the years, Barnard acquired several vast collections of Gothic and Romanesque antiques dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Barnard built “The Cloisters” for his major collection, which was later purchased by John D. Rockefeller and donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Capitol groups were finished in 1910 and were exhibited at the Paris Spring Salon in front of the Grand Palais, where they were received with great enthusiasm. The famous sculptor Aguste Rodin praised Barnard’s “Giants.” The two huge sculptural groups were shipped to Harrisburg and installed on the façade of the Capitol during 1910-1911. A grand celebration was organized for the official unveiling. With great fanfare October 4, 1911 was designated as “Barnard Day.” A chorus of school children sang, “The Barnard Groups,” the band played “The Barnard March,” and orators praised the sculptor during the dedication of these magnificent marble works. At his request, George Grey Barnard was buried in Harrisburg to be near to what he considered his finest work.

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George Barnard is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
New York Armory Show of 1913

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