A painter, Bernard M. Keyes (1898-1973) was trained at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts where he was mentored by Frank W. Benson. He also studied at Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum where he was awarded a traveling scholarship. Upon his return in 1922 he began to teach painting classes at the SMFA. Allen and Keyes became colleagues. This bronze bust was cast about 1930 and later given as a gift by the Sharf family to the Museum of Fine Arts. It was on display on the floor above the rotunda of the MFA in 2008 where it flanked the doorway paired with a bust of Charles Grafly, the predecessor of Frederick Allen as Head of the Sculpture Department.
Compare this bust to the one of William Isaac Cole at Wheaton College sculpted in 1927 and his self-portrait bust from 1919. All three illustrate the principles he taught: a strong inner structure with movement in the details of the surface forms, the neck centered under the skull. “The portrait is in the back of the head,” and “the features or muzzle will forever be wrong unless the skull and neck are first properly studied both in action and structure.” Details should be interestingly modeled in relation to the solids underneath.
His style was based upon the esthetic of the Boston School of Artists who trained him, that of ideal beauty with truthful and natural representation, crafted with sophistication and executed with skill in the academic disciplines. His use of the clay in modeling is somewhat impressionistic in the play of light to suggest forms without completing all the details.
His skill in creating likenesses is evident here and his mastery over this art form shows the legacy of his training with Bela Lyon Pratt, his close association with Charles Grafly, and his study of the portraits of the masters Auguste Rodin and Pratt’s teacher, Augustus St. Gaudens.