Frederick Warren Allen


Boston School of Artists

The shining era for art in Boston was during the time when the Boston School of artists was active. The masters of this period of art, most notably Frank Benson and Edmund Tarbell, were flourishing in the late 1800s through the first quarter of the 1900s. During this time, American Impressionism was introduced and became wildly popular. The esthetic of the group was one of classical, ideal beauty with truthful and natural representation, crafted with sophistication and executed with skill in the academic disciplines. Many of the artists held influential positions as teachers at the Museum School and as leaders in the cultural community in Boston. Masters like Frank Benson, Bela Pratt and Frederick Allen were also part of the North Haven Artists Colony in Maine where they spent their summers, inspired by the light and nature of the beautiful island setting.

Frederick Warren Allen's Self-Portrait Bust, modeled in clay, cast in plaster with a green patina, 1919

Portrait busts are the bread and butter of an artist. When times are good, the advantaged want images of their loved ones passed, when they’re proud they want something to brag about, when they want to demonstrate appreciation the gift of a portrait is a perfect way to show it, when someone is important and deserves to be remembered a permanent memorial is timeless, and there’s something decadent about having a beautiful portrait of a person, be it a philanthropist or yourself!

For an artist, an image of oneself is a good way to practice. Most artists do it at some point in their career, whether they show it to anyone or not. This self-portrait bust was found in the closet of Allen’s eldest daughter. She didn’t remember where it came from and a piece of the hair was broken off above the forehead. We took it to Robert Shure of Skylight Studios in Woburn, MA for repair. Bob is a working figurative sculptor in the academic tradition who took over Allen’s studio when Northeastern University bought out the property. He moved the contents and named his new place Skylight Studios after the skylight over the sculpture stage of Allen’s original Italianate studio on Tavern Road in Boston, just a block from the Museum. Adio diBiccari was one of Allen’s star students and Bob was one of his studio assistants when Adio bought the studio at the time of Allen’s retirement in 1954. Shure inherited the studio from diBiccari and heard all of the stories that Adio had to tell of his beloved teacher. He has carried on the tradition and was happy to make the repair to this self-portrait bust.

The bust was modeled in clay, cast in plaster and finished in a dark green patina. It is a handsome and honest portrayal of the 31 year old sculptor with the hair already thinning to what became the bald crown that prompted him to wear a beret for warmth in the winter and a khaki hat with a green sun visor in the summers on North Haven Island off the midcoast of Maine. It is a very New England face with an aquiline nose, a long upper lip and a strong jaw and chin. He honestly portrays an odd right ear. His neck is long with a prominent Adam’s apple, his forehead prominent with bushy eyebrows over noticeable eyes. The prominent posterior skull balances the facial features. There is a humble elegance in the total look.

He was building to the apex of his career when he sculpted this piece, an accomplished artist already with responsibilities for teaching at the Museum School and for his growing family. He was disciplined, independent and creative, a student of human nature and anatomy, and a gifted artist and teacher.

According to our records, he sculpted over 35 busts in the years between 1910 and 1940, portraying men and women in many walks of life from an ironmonger to a college president. He was sought after because of his uncanny ability to create likenesses both in the round and in relief. From Mrs. Francis Kershaw about the bust of her husband, “I like to think there is in the world something so beautiful as this portrait you have created. The face as I saw it today is entirely familiar, with all the loveliness of character I am accustomed to see there, but with a new radiance with which I am not so familiar. It was because of this look that I sent for you. You have caught it and developed it astonishingly; and now my husband stands transfigured before me with this marvellous beauty!’’ From the Director of the Vesper George School to the stained glass artist Charles Connick, “I saw at the Boston Art Club, a bust of you carved in wood. I think I have never seen a more perfect likeness of anyone in any medium. I think it is a marvelous thing. Allen certainly deserves enormous credit for the artistic qualities of it and you are to be congratulated on having so splendid a portrait of yourself for future generations to admire.”

Allen Self-Portrait Detail, Plaster colored with green patina, inscribed June 1919

He demonstrated in his own bust the principles he taught to his students, a strong inner structure with movement in the details of the surface forms. In a portrait, the neck must be 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. And so the broad smooth areas of the brow and cheeks are balanced by the facial features in front and interest created by the details of the hair and ears in back as you turn the head around. The finished areas of the face contrast with the rough clay at the base where you can see how he spread it with his thumb. You can see the tool marks at the chest where he suggested the outline of the edge of a shirt around his neck and cut away a space for an identifying future tag. The treatment is more impressionistic in how it catches the light while the inner form is classical and anatomically correct according to his academic training as part of the Boston School of Artists. This could well have been a teaching model for his classes at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts … a fine portrait of a fine artist.

(The principles outlined here and the Allen quotes are from Elizabeth MacLean Smith’s biography, “Frederick Warren Allen, 1888-1961.”)

Crippled Frog Bookends, Bronze on marble base, Frederick Warren Allen, Sculptor, 1914

When Frederick Allen was in Paris in 1914, he studied with Paul Wayland Bartlett at the Academie Colarossi. Bartlett was well known for his realistic Beaux Arts style animal sculptures which he cast himself in bronze using the lost-wax process and colored with experimental patinas of his own creation. He learned to draw and sculpt animals at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under the tutelage of the French animalier Emmanuel Fremiet at the Jardin des Plantes and modeled animals for use in sculptures all over Paris. Bartlett was clearly influenced by the popular ceramics of Bernard Palissy from the 1500s who crafted platters and bowls covered with realistic creatures cast from life, including frogs, which he glazed in bright colors that imitated nature. His collection of small decorative bronzes were popular and praised at the Salon of 1895.

The Boston School of Artists were all trained in the academic traditions of the Paris schools. When the war started in 1914, when Allen was there, Europe changed. This event also changed the attitude that to study in Paris was a “necessity” for an artist’s reputation, and American artists came into their own. Allen studied first at the Academie Julian under Paul Landowski who sculpted the famous Christ the Redeemer that overlooks Rio de Janeiro. When Julian closed, Allen entered the Academie Colarossi and learned from Paul Bartlett. He spent his time sketching in the museums and galleries, taking in the rich culture of art in Paris. What he learned inspired him. He returned to Boston in 1914, began his career teaching with other Boston School artists at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and, as a founding member of the Guild of Boston Artists, began to exhibit his work. These frog characters in the Paris Beaux-Arts style were exhibited at the Guild of Boston Artists, at Doll and Richards Gallery and at the St. Botolph Club.

Crippled Frog, Detail of patina and inscription, Bronze, Frederick Warren Allen, Sculptor, 1914

With all that Allen gained in studying the Paris sculptors, he must have been especially influenced by his own teachers there. He mastered the lost wax process of casting and chose interesting patinas to color his bronzes, techniques for which Bartlett was well known. Notice on the frogs pictured here, the variation in color and texture from the shine and transparency of the golden eyes to the antique matte yellowed appearance of the metal around the amphibian’s legs, belly and feet, almost like dried mud in which you might have found him. The green, reddish brown and black mottled colors have depth like a good ceramic glaze and are realistically frog-like. Rather than being strictly natural like a life cast, Allen took artistic license and played with the light in an impressionistic way, modeling the animal with a textured surface, showing the clay and leaving some details to the imagination.

In his classes at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, he taught animal sculpture, leading some of his students to play with that subject matter extensively. In his own work, he chose to depict animals. Find among his pieces two elephants, two flying horses, two eagles, three frogs, small birds, a wolf, a pony, a turtle, a fish, a duck and a dolphin. As studio assistant to Bela Pratt, he sculpted an eagle, a seagull, a squirrel and three full-size horses. In his life, he enjoyed wildlife, spending time with his children showing them creatures in his hands, in the woods and in the sea. He kept a pet baby porcupine for a while who did a little ritual dance they would marvel at every morning and made a cage and exercise wheel for some field mice, demonstrated the strength of a snapping turtle’s jaws and showed them the little ping-pong ball shaped eggs, taught them how to care for and feed a baby bird, had them touch a smooth green grass snake and let it slide through their hands. And of course there were house pets, three cats a dog and a parrot. He loved being in nature, appreciated it, and showed that appreciation in his sculptures.

Andrew J. Peters, Boston Mayor 1918-1922, bronze, F.W.Allen, Sculptor, 1921

Andrew J. Peters (1872-1938) was the 42nd Mayor of Boston when his portrait was cast in bronze by Frederick Warren Allen in 1921. His term ended the next year, but he liked the plaque so well that he ordered one for himself!

Notice in the enlargement the realistic details of the bushy eyebrows, the thin hair and the facial wrinkles. The Boston School of Artists believed in portraying their subjects honestly and naturally rather than idealizing them.

This was to be the first of three mayoral portraits done by Allen for the City of Boston for what Allen’s wife recorded as the “Hall of Fame” in Old City Hall. A plan to portray all of the mayors never was carried out, but these three hung in City Hall until it was gutted for renovation in 1969. A search is underway to find what happened to the art, but for now there is only one image to show, that of Mayor Peters.

LOST ART is being discovered and recorded by the Boston Art Commission, so if any reader knows where these portraits are located, please contact the author or the BAC.

F.W.Allen sculpted three such portraits 8 and 16 years after this photo was taken

Behind the group of photographers, on the wall, are ten round portrait reliefs in a framed display. This image is of James M. Curley (Wikipedia) in a press conference taken in the Boston City Council office in 1913. It shows the kind of portraits done by F.W.Allen and where they might have been hung in 1921 and 1937.

Peters was Mayor from 1918-1922 between Curley’s first and second of four terms. Nichols held the office from 1926-1930 between Curley’s second and third terms and Mansfield from 1934-1938 after his third term. Curley came back after Mayor Tobin’s long tenure from 1938-1945 for his fourth and final term. Allen portrayed Peters, Nichols and Mansfield.

Peters distinguished himself by graduating from Harvard and Harvard Law School, serving as a United States Congressman from 1907-1914, and as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury from 1914-1918 in the Woodrow Wilson administration. His election as Mayor of Boston followed, and in this capacity he served until 1922. His reputation became sullied by failing to act during the Boston Police strike and for an affair he had which became part of the story of Butterfield 8 by John O’Hara. He was also a patron of the arts and served as a Trustee Ex-Officio at the Museum of Fine Arts after the death of Abraham Shuman in 1918. It may have been Peters who recommended Allen for the job of doing the portraits. (Note that in the post on Shuman in the Important People gallery, he was generous in his support of the Boston City Hospital, owned and run by the city. The men may have known each other.)

Malcolm E. Nichols (1876-1951) also graduated from Harvard and served as both a Massachusetts Congressman and Senator after working as a political journalist. For sports fans, it was Nichols who signed the ordinance permitting Sunday sports on January 31, 1929. His term as Mayor lasted from 1926-1930.

Frederick W. Mansfield (1877-1958) was an attorney (Boston University School of Law), who served the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as its Treasurer and Receiver General for a two-year term in 1914 and 1915. He won a term as Mayor of Boston in 1934 and served the city until 1938. During his administration, a new city hospital building was constructed and seven schools. There is a scrapbook photo of Mansfield at the dedication ceremony of the Timilty School in Roxbury, MA where a portrait relief of Senator James P. Timilty was unveiled. F.W.Allen was the sculptor.  Just a side note, both the sculptor and the Mayor were named Frederick W.

A Mermaid for Frank Benson, after 1933

March 6, 2011

From the waters of Bartlett’s Harbor on North Haven Island in Maine sprang a beautiful mermaid who wanted to be immortalized in stone and live on land. Frederick Warren Allen caught her and granted her wish, placing her in the lovely garden of his friend the painter, Frank W. Benson, where she could still see [...]

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Torso, Greenstone, est.1938

March 4, 2011

Conner – Rosenkranz, premier dealers of 19th and 20th Century American sculpture in New York City and authors of Rediscoveries in American Sculpture, Studio Works, 1893-1939, didn’t discover Frederick Warren Allen until fairly recently when they were presented with the North Haven Greenstone  torso for auction. In a conversation with Allen’s granddaughter, they told her they [...]

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Elephant, gray granite, abt 1938, 3 resin copies abt 1964

March 4, 2011

On a summer day on North Haven Island in Maine, Frederick Warren Allen was rowing the family dinghy in Bartlett’s Harbor in front of their cottage with his son, also named Frederick. As the twosome peered over the side of the boat into the water, father Allen spotted a large granite boulder. “There is an [...]

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Egyptian Head, gray granite, 1938

March 4, 2011

“This is the piece by which I would like to be remembered.” Carved in gray North Haven granite from the island he loved, the mature artist, Frederick Warren Allen had finally found his best expression. S0lid and heavy like the stone, possessing strength at it’s core and emotional power in it’s expression, stripped of excess, [...]

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The Wave, bronze, abt 1914

February 27, 2011

Inspired by Auguste Rodin? Very likely. Frederick Warren Allen was studying and sculpting in Paris in 1914 when Rodin was still alive (1840-1917). He spent many hours drawing in the museum galleries, taking special note of the new modern sculpture being shown there, especially at the Luxembourg Museum where Rodin was on exhibit. Before his [...]

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Carl N. Van Ness, bronze, abt 1920

February 27, 2011

The summer residents on North Haven Island recognized that over in Bartlett’s Harbor there was a bohemian colony of artists. The two groups didn’t socialize much together, the artists being absorbed in their work and isolating themselves to allow their creative juices to flow. Of the artists who lived in the colony or visited there, [...]

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Head of a Woman, pink granite, abt 1959

February 26, 2011

“Got a few minutes? Let’s go look for rocks,” Lewis Haskell, the venerable North Haven Island native and historian remembers Fred Allen saying. They would walk along the shore and he would point to a stone and have Lewis look at it to see if he could see anything in it. Head of a Woman [...]

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Bernard M. Keyes, 1928

January 10, 2011

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 [...]

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Torso, 1914

January 9, 2011

Alternately called Torso of a Dancing Girl this beautiful little figure was also carved twice in marble. Three bronze casts were made using the lost wax process and finished with a green patina. Presently one marble original is in the Concord Art Association, and one in the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, bronze is in [...]

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Frank Weston Benson, 1923

January 9, 2011

Frank Weston Benson (1862 – 1951) This amazing bas relief of Allen’s colleague Frank W. Benson is only 1.9 cm. That’s 3/4 of an inch! The coin-sized medallion was a gift of the Barbarossa family to the Museum of Fine Arts. F.W.Allen’s skill in creating such definition in such low relief and in such a small [...]

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George Washington Monument, Fall River, MA, 1942

December 27, 2010

The Catholic children of the diocese in Fall River collected their pennies to pay for the erection of what was heralded as being one of the most beautiful George Washington monuments and “of such artistic merit and patriotic intent as to attract nation-wide interest,” reported the local paper on October  8, 1942. The monument was [...]

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