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Gutzon Borglum's Art
"Beauty is like a soul that hovers over the surface of form. Its presence is unmistakable in Art or in Life. The measure of its revelation depends on the measure of our own soul-consciousness, the boundaries of our own spirit." — Gutzon Borglum
The Stamford Museum and Nature Center organized a 1999 exhibition titled "Out of Rushmore's Shadow: The Artistic Development of Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941)." Selections from that exhibit illustrate some of the influences Borglum incorporated into his work. Frequently, Borglum favored muscular, dynamic poses for his subjects, and he also liked to make art on a large scale.
Staging in California, 1889, Oil on canvas, 60 x 108 inches
"Staging in California" is a large painting depicting a stagecoach speeding down a mountainside. The scene is bathed in a glorious golden light, and the sky is filled with roughly scattered clouds. The limited palette and dense background are in the Romantic tradition of French Barbizon painters such as Theodore Rousseau and François Millet.
Credit: Courtesy of the Anschutz Collection
The Dancer, 1916, Bronze, 12 x 3 x 7 inches
Borglum wrote of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin: "in the presence of the work of Auguste Rodin, I am always reminded of Ruskin's declaration, that when we stand before a great work of art we are conscious that we are in the presence... of a great power... he is a force in modern sculpture to be reckoned with."
Harvard professor Chandler Rathfon Post wrote in turn of Borglum: "Gutzon is probably... the most gifted American exponent of the style of Rodin." Rodin's style was characterized by its realism, impressionist surface treatment and idealization of the female form.
Credit: Private Collection
The Mares of Diomedes, 1904
"The Mares of Diomedes" was the first piece of American sculpture purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This work was shown at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, where Borglum won a gold medal. Despite the classical title, which refers to one of the Labors of Hercules, the equine subject and energy of this piece seem to allude more closely to Borglum's western upbringing.
Credit: Library of Congress
Colossal Lincoln, 1908
The portrait of Abraham Lincoln was completed a year before the centennial of the president's birth, and was probably a model for a competition to create a statue of Lincoln for Nebraska's state capitol. On seeing this bust, Lincoln's son Robert said it was, "just like seeing Father again." This piece was displayed in Theodore Roosevelt's White House and was later bought and presented to the U.S. government. It is now displayed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
Credit: Mary Borglum/Give the Man Room
Borglum's first foray into mountain carving came at Stone Mountain in Georgia, where the United Daughters of the Confederacy hired him to sculpt a likeness of Robert E. Lee. To fund the project, Borglum designed a commemorative half-dollar coin which was minted and then sold by the Stone Mountain project for a dollar. In this way, he raised more than two million dollars. His Lee was completed to everyone's satisfaction, but Borglum became embroiled in a conflict; in the end, he fled Georgia, and his patrons issued a warrant for his arrest.
Although a monument was eventually completed on Stone Mountain, none of Borglum's original design exists on the mountain anymore.
Credit: Library of Congress
Woodrow Wilson, c. 1929-1931, Plaster cast, 31 x 22 x 16 inches
Borglum collection, Stamford Museum & Nature Center
Gift of Mary Ellis Borglum Vhay (92.3.12)
While working on the massive presidential heads of Mount Rushmore, Borglum was asked to create a public monument of Woodrow Wilson for the Polish city of Poznan. Wilson was not one of Borglum's favorite presidents, perhaps because he did not respond well to Borglum's volunteered advice on how to manage the aeronautics industry during the First World War.
Credit: Stamford Museum & Nature Center