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Image of Venus Anadyomene

Paul Manship , (Dec 24, 1885–Feb 1, 1966)

Venus Anadyomene

1927
28 5/8 in. x 22 in. (72.71 cm x 55.88 cm)

Medium and Support: marble
Credit Line: gift of anonymous donor
Fountain restoration funded by Mary and Keith Kauppila
Accession Number: 1930.291
Current Location: On view : 101

Commentary

The statue of a classical nude woman washing her hair might seem an unlikely subject for the entry of an art gallery in a school for boys. The sculpture, Venus Anadyomene, graces the entrance foyer of the Addison Gallery as the result of the close association between the museum’s architect, Charles Platt, and the sculpture’s maker, Paul Manship, who had become friends during summer sojourns in Cornish, New Hampshire and at the American Academy in Rome. When Thomas Cochran enlisted the architect Charles Platt to design the museum, Platt naturally turned to Manship, America's most prominent sculptor, with whom he was already collaborating that year at New York’s Bronx Zoo.

After growing up in Minnesota, Manship spent three years as a winner of the Prix de Rome at the American Academy in Rome, where he meticulously gathered illustrations and experiences of antiquity. His development as a sculptor was consciously willed to produce a new idiom neither fully abstract nor reactionary in its representationalism. Manship navigated a middle path between Cubism and academic conservatism. By the time he returned to the United States in 1912 his art was honed to challenge even the looming figure of Rodin—then the most famous living sculptor. And Manship succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. His first show in New York, toward the end of 1912, sold out, and for the next thirty years his work was unrelentingly in demand and in international fashion; he had helped invent Art Deco. In 1935 he was given the only lifetime exhibition since Rodin's at the Tate Gallery in London. It was not surprising, therefore, that Platt would engage Manship to embellish a dramatic circular marble foyer with a central fountain.

Manship felt under no particular obligation to produce a piece specially designed—or, as we would say today, site-specific—for a boys' school.1 He had other things on his mind and used Cochran's invitation to develop an idea that he had been considering for some time.

Manship had first depicted Venus in 1916 when he created, initially for his own home, a striking pair of gilded bronze candelabra surmounted by figures: Adam and Eve and Venus and Vulcan.2 Then, in the early 1920s, he sketched Two Women, One Washes the Other's Hair, a forerunner of the Addison fountain.3 In this pencil drawing the kneeling woman whose hair is being washed is the first appearance of the fountain figure. The motif, though classically treated, is quotidian and gives life to the long-gone days of antiquity. By the mid-1920s, Manship had completely thought out his ideas for a new sculpture.4 He eliminated the servant who pours water over the kneeling woman in the sketch, and he associated the remaining solitary figure with one of the great moments of classical mythology.

In the Roman revision of Greek myth, Venus—goddess of love and beauty—was the child of Dione and Uranus; the latter's severed genitals mingled with the ocean and spawned Venus from the sea foam. Manship depicted the moment when, come from the surf and for the first time on land, Venus washes the generating ocean from her hair. The Greek anadyomene means "born of water," which suggests an apt motif for a fountain.

Manship's mechanical system seems never to have worked properly. When the fountain was first installed, it was reported that the water "dripped and spattered," directed by "poorly controlled jets of water.... But the defect is only minor and temporary, and doubtless will be speedily corrected, even though the foyer will remain a mushroom."5 The problem, though, remained unresolved for eighty years, until removal of the sculpture for restoration during museum renovation in 2010 allowed the replacement of the fountain’s plumbing system, installation of a water reserve tank, and addition of a flow control system to achieve proper hydraulic activity within the tiered basin.6

In contrast to the mechanical difficulties, the sculptor's formal treatment is highly successful in representing Venus with an austerity that contrasts with her flowing suppleness. The figure is contracted within the limits of a pierced, cylindrical shaft. This rigor is not usually visible in the profile photographs of the work most frequently reproduced, and the formal logic of the piece requires the viewer to move around and in front of it. The shape is a study in pure carving, as if hollows were whittled from a solid pillar. As usual, Manship matched the technical challenge with a humanistic mixture of mythology and psychology. Gesture, intimate and apparently unobserved, balances a grandly public conception.

Though Manship was, and is, best known as a modeling sculptor (mainly casting exquisite bronzes) who conceived additive forms built of clay or plaster, in Venus Anadyomene he created solely in terms of a solid volume from which he subtracted matter by means of carving and polishing. More than any other work of his, this sculpture brought Manship close to the great tradition of carving. He used a white Italian marble with concentric basins, all set upon spiral pillars surrounded by a basin of veined marble. The decorative program of surface embellishment contrasts the densely ornamental passage of Venus's hair with the smooth and almost undetailed mass of the rest of the sculpture. This was an equilibrium that Manship repeated a decade later in one of the world's most visible sculptures, his great ,Prometheus fountain in Rockefeller Center, New York. In conception and execution it marks a significant moment in the career of an artist who was reaching the very peak of his creative powers.



Harry Rand, Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, A Selective Catalogue (Andover, Massachusetts: Addison Gallery of American Art, 1996), pp. 427-28; revised by Susan C. Faxon, Associate Director and Curator of Art Before 1950, and Kelley Tialiou, Charles H. Sawyer Curatorial Assistant | Librarian | Archivist





1. Reflecting Manship's celebrity and importance to modern sculpture, the Addison Gallery had already acquired one piece by him, Flight of Night, 1916. Today the Addison holds no less than ten works by Manship.


2. See Harry Rand, Paul Manship (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989), p. 146, figs. 154, 155.


3. This small pencil drawing (2 3/4 by 1 7/8 inches) of the early 1920s is in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; see ibid., pp. 60-61, fig. 49.


4. At least three small studies were executed for the large Addison piece; these can be found in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum: Venus Anadyomene (#1), 1924, bronze on marble base, height: 9 inches; Study for Venus Anadyomene, 1924, bronze on marble base, height: 4 inches; and Venus Anadyomene (#2)/a>, 1924, plaster, height: 20 1/2 inches. There are casts of the two figures in other public and private collections.


5. Boston Evening Transcript, 16 May 1931, part 5.


6. Williamstown Art Conservation Center Treatment Report, Addison Gallery Archives.

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