Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Missing Statue of DeWitt Clinton

According to Georgia Stamm Chamberlain, in The Ball-Hughes Statue of Alexander Hamilton in Antiques Journal March 1957, “Ball-Hughes had already demonstrated his ability to recreate a living portrait in sculpture in his larger than life marble statue of De Witt Clinton for the front of Clinton Hall in Theater Alley on the southwest corner of Beekman and Nassau Streets.” “Shortly after Clinton's death, Ball-Hughes had worked from prints and portraits to secure the satisfactory likeness.” This account was before Ball Hughes plaster model for the famous full-length marble statue of Hamilton was approved by the Merchants' Exchange committee in December 1830.

The Feb. 13, 1830 issue of the New York Mirror reported the following: "The directors of Clinton Hall Association, some time since, applied to Mr. Hughes, the sculptor, for the model of a projected statue of our late Governor, intended for the front of Clinton Hall. This model has been completed, and the exquisite accuracy of its execution has so fully satisfied the directors that they have ordered one of marble, larger than life." Now we know that a model was made by February 1830 and a marble statue was ordered, but was it ever executed?

A search for statues of Clinton did not reveal any record of one ever being completed by Ball Hughes. A pair of cast statues of Alexander Hamilton and DeWitt Clinton, by Adolph A. Weinman in 1941, adorn the front facade of the Museum of the City of New York. The statue of Hamilton is based on the famous marble statue by Robert Ball Hughes that was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1835. But what was the source of the design for companion statue of Clinton?

Microfilm records entitled “Adolph A. Weinman Papers, 1890-1959” have been digitized and are available on the Smithsonian Archives of Art website. They include an article from the New York Times, Tuesday, January 14, 1941 that states that “The De Witt Clinton statue is an original work resulting from an exhaustive study of numerous contemporary portraits on the part of the artist.” Absent is any reference to a statue of Clinton by Robert Ball Hughes.

Perhaps the reason we cannot find other references to a life size marble statue of Clinton is that it was never executed after the model was made and approved. In 1830, Ball Hughes was busy making the model for the larger than life statue of Alexander Hamilton for the rotunda of the Merchants Exchange on Wall Street. That 28” high plaster model of Hamilton was enthusiastically received and approved in December 1830. Ball Hughes would not have had enough time to procure such as large piece of marble for the statue of Clinton in 1830 before embarking on the Hamilton statue. The marble for the statue of Hamilton took some time to be procured from Italy. Ball Hughes worked on a full size model of the Hamilton, probably starting in 1831, and then on the marble statue in 1834 when the marble and carvers from England had arrived.

What about the references to a larger than life marble statue of Clinton by Georgia Stamm Chamberlain in 1957? Even Wayne Craven, writing in Sculpture in America (1968 & 1984), quoted the 1830 New York Mirror article and concluded that Ball Hughes was working on a statue of DeWitt Clinton for the Clinton Hall Association. A model was definitely made by Ball Hughes by February 1830 but I have not found any record of a life size marble statue ever being executed after it was ordered.

More information was found in the recently rediscovered Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes by Mrs. E. Ball Hughes, Robert's wife. Eliza states that about the time Ball Hughes had completed the Monument to Bishop Hobart (about October 1832 according to The Diary of Philip Hone) that Ball Hughes "made a very fine statuette of Governor Clinton." Perhaps Eliza recalled the order of events wrong as her account is not always chronological. The statuette she describes may have been the model that was approved in February 1830. If Ball Hughes had made a life size marble statue of Clinton, Eliza didn't mention it, only a statuette.

I reviewed all of the source material that I have accumulated so far and found a possible answer in American Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Vol. 1, A Catalogue of Works by Artists Born before 1865, edited by Thayer Tolles (1999). “... when he arrived in New York, he (Hughes) was perhaps the most talented and technically proficient sculptor in the United States. As such, he had access to New York's prominent citizens and he received some important commissions, but they were too few to sustain him and he had difficulty extracting payment. In 1829-30, for instance, he prepared a model for a statue of De Witt Clinton, a plum commission from the Clinton Hall Association that was never realized.”

Once again, more answers lead me to more questions. What ever happened to the statuette of DeWitt Clinton?