Tuesday, October 8, 2013

detail - Joseph Willard tomb - Amphitheater section - Oak Hill Cemetery - 2013-09-04This is a detail of the grave of Joseph E. Willard, first United States Ambassador to Spain (1913 to 1921), in Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C., in the United States. Prior to Willard, all American representatives in Spain were envoys extraordinary and ministers plenipotentiary -- NOT ambassadors.

The grave features a 40-inch-high reproduction of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens' famous bas-relief, "Amor Caritas". Funerary winged angels are a recurring theme in the work of Saint-Gaudens, the most famous American sculptor of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The model was Davida Johnson Clark, Saint-Gaudens' mistress beginning in the early 1880s. A garland of passion flowers encircles her waist and adorns her hair (in a Christ-like, rather than funereal, manner). It is based on a slightly different design that was 10 feet high and carved in marble in 1880 for the tomb of Edwin D. Morgan in Hartford, Connecticut. Three angels were carved, but the tomb was destroyed by fire and the artworks lost. Saint-Gaudens carved the image again in marble and created two of them as caryatids for the fireplace mantelpiece in the mansion of Cornelius Vanderbilt II. These are now on display in the East Gallery of the American Wing Courtyard of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Saint-Gaudens carved the image yet again (with minor alterations) for the tomb of Ann Maria Smith in Island Cemetery, Newport, Rhode Island.

After Saint-Gaudens moved to Paris in 1897, he reworked the figure into a bronze sculpture. He made changes to the wings and garment, made the tablet smaller, got rid of a cornice (since it would no longer hold up mantels or roofs), and added a semicircular plinth below the feet. He cast the eight-foot-high original in bronze in 1898.

"Amor Caritas" is one of the major works of American sculpture. It won Saint-Gaudens the Grand Prix of the Exhibition Universelle in Paris in 1900.

After the work became universally praised, Saint-Gaudens began casting 40-inch-high versions. Wood framed versions are common, but many are stand-alone pieces. A few are gilded. Copies are held by the Art Institute of Chicago, Brooklyn Museum, Cincinnati Art Museum, Cleveland Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), Custis Memorial Library (Meriden, Connecticut), Detroit Institute of Arts, Massachusetts General Hospital, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City), R.W. Norton Gallery (Shreveport, Louisiana), Rhode Island School of Design, St. Louis Art Museum, and the University of Miami Library. At least one is in private hands.

The only one used for funerary purposes is this one, on Willard's grave. It is worth more than $100,000, and was placed there in 1997 by the Kermit Roosevelt family. Kermit Roosevelt was President Theodore Roosevelt's son. In 1914, Kermit married Belle Wyatt Willard, Joseph Willard's daughter. Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. was a CIA officer who engineered the overthrow of the democratically elected Iranian government in 1953, and Kermit Roosevelt III is a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

"Amor Caritas" was stolen from Oak Hill Cemetery some time between November 27 and December 1, 1985. The cemetery discovered the theft on December 2, but kept it quiet in the hopes that the artwork could be recovered. The work was removed by cutting the brass wires that held it to the stone base, and there was concern the statue might have been damaged due to the hasty way it was forced free.

The artwork was returned on March 13, 1986. According to police (who refused to divulge details), a buyer purchased the statue and then read press reports about its theft. A lawyer in Frederick, Maryland, contacted law enforcement officials just after midnight on Thursday, March 13. Frederick police said they would accept the angel "no questions asked" in order to secure its return. The work was returned, and cemetery officials retrieved it on March 14.

This image and others of this statue can be seen in my Oak Hill Cemetery photo set.

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