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Monday, 29 July 2013

An American sculptor

Saturday, July 29th., Les Sablons, Fontainebleau.

Dined last night with the American sculptor George Grey Barnard, down on the banks of the Loing at Moret.

He is doing the sculpture for the facade of the Capitol of Pennsylvania - a building a 1000 feet long and 450 feet high. Chiefly two enormous groups containing 33 heroic figures, feeble in sentiment and academic in design. What interested me was the intense absorption of the man in his work, and his energy. He is a little man with staring black eyes (one queer) and the deep strong voice of a very strong man. He has a huge old stone building by the river, rather like a church but not one; and it was curious to see this statuary for an American state being quietly produced here.

Barnard in his studio at
George Grey Barnard (1863-1938) was born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. From childhood Barnard manifested a determination and an aptitude for creating form with his hands. He worked as a taxidermist and later an engraver before entering the Art Institute of Chicago when he was nineteen. At the Institute, Barnard became enamoured with the works of Italian master Michelangelo who he emulated throughout his lifetime. After his studies in Chicago, Barnard had made enough money from sculpting to travel to Paris to engage in advanced training. In Paris, Barnard was admitted to the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts for a three-year term of study. He truly lived the Bohemian lifestyle of an artist — reclusive, often penniless, and totally devoted to his art. It was Joseph Huston's 1902 Capitol commission that propelled Barnard to the forefront of the sculpting world. The original sculptural commission for Barnard was much larger than what was actually produced for the building.
Barnard set out immediately sketching and creating small models of his sculpture in clay. As soon as the first of these models was complete Barnard set off for France to begin the creation of the twenty-seven heroic figures. During his time in Moret, Barnard began collecting artwork from the Middle Ages in France. In 1904 the original sculptural scheme along with other artwork within the building was scaled back, which allowed Barnard to focus on completion of the two groups for the main entrance. Barnard completed these two groups in 1910. They were titled Love and Labor: The Unbroken Law—the north group, and The Burden of Life: The Broken Law—the south group, respectively. After exhibition at the Paris Salon, the groups were disassembled and shipped to Harrisburg. Installed on October 4, 1911 — a day that the legislature designated "Barnard Day" — the magnificent marble groups were dedicated in front of a crowd of five thousand people. After his death his body was moved to Harrisburg Cemetery, to be close to the Capitol statuary, which he considered to be his masterpiece.

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