Frederick Warren Allen


Sculptural Legacy

Bela L. Pratt & Augustus Saint-Gaudens were his predecessors and the greatest influence on the work of Frederick W. Allen. St. Gaudens is considered the greatest American sculptor. Pratt was taught by St. Gaudens and worked as an assistant in his studio where he learned from the master sculptor like an apprentice. Although he died before Allen was born, his influence is obvious. Pratt was Allen’s teacher and mentor. Allen worked in the same capacity as Pratt and St. Gaudens, as an assistant in Pratt’s studio. However, he also studied under him for almost four years at the Museum School and it was there, under Pratt’s tutelage and mentoring, that Allen’s own genius emerged. Allen had the same influence on his own students and his legacy was passed down through him to the present day.

Medallic and numismatic art is one that combines artistry and technical skill. Not only was Allen trained in the technicalities of this art as a teenager in the jewelry factories of Attleboro, but he was also trained in the artistry of the work by Bela Lyon Pratt, one of the two foremost numismatists of the day. The other was Pratt’s teacher Augustus St. Gaudens, our most famous American sculptor. On his own, Allen had an extraordinary ability to create depth and detail in extremely low relief. This medal is an example.

Two designs are created to complement each other on opposite sides of the medal or coin. First the artist creates sketches of his opposing designs on paper or directly on clay incorporating a design and lettering. The space available is very small, so the design must be reduced to the simplest and clearest elements. The medal is made first in an oversized original and reduced to the final size by the medal maker. The advantage of working oversize is that the important details that make the image realistic can be refined. The first copy is modeled by adding tiny pellets of clay then shaping and carving with sculptor’s tools to achieve the desired result. The central image is usually done first then the lettering added around it. Once the sculptor determines that the work is perfect he casts it in plaster by first coating the clay with a release agent, sealing the edge with a “fence,” mixing the plaster carefully to prevent air bubbles then coating the relief, slowly and carefully building up the thickness. When it is dry, it may be baked to harden it. So now the “positive” clay becomes the “negative” plaster. Here is the artist’s opportunity to make refinements to the design. The process is then repeated, the negative plaster coated with the release agent and covered with another layer of plaster which, when lifted off, becomes a “positive” again. This is the copy that is sent to the medal maker for reduction and production. A steel die is “cut” of the reduction and used to “strike” the final copies in metal for distribution. The artisans who cut the dies are called “sculptors in steel.” Computers do that job now so, sadly, the art has been lost.
On the obverse (the front) of this Boston Symphony Orchestra medallion is a young man kneeling on a curved horizon facing right with his right knee resting on the horizon. His left knee is bent in front supporting his left arm with the fingers of this hand holding a lyre on the far vertical arm at the crossbar. His right arm is raised, the hand playing the five strings of the instrument.
His hips are slightly elevated, sitting on his heel, the toes bent under him in a sandaled foot. A cloth drapes his legs, leaving the muscular torso bare down past his waist. His hair is done with a decorative treatment of tight curls held together with a band below the crown, tied at the base of the skull. The head bends slightly forward, but the torso stays erect. The face is handsome and the anatomy throughout accurate and detailed. Block letters around the border under the rim read “Boston Symphony Orchestra 1881-1931.”

On the reverse are two laurel sprays with symmetrical pairs of opposing leaves each with seventeen leaves. Between the stem of the sprays is a short lyre on a standing base in the small space at the bottom (in exergue). Between the curved branches in the middle of the medallion are block letters reading “FIFTIETH ANNVERSARY MEDAL.” The name of the foundry is stamped on the flat edge “MEDALLIC ART CO. N.Y.”

The gift to the Museum of Fine Arts was from Henry P. Richmond, Allen’s architect friend, Pete.

Bronze bas relief
Diameter 0.063 (2 1/2″) (Legacy dimension)
Signed on the front under the musician’s left toe: F.W.ALLEN, obverse under the stem of the branch to the right of the central lyre.
Foundry: Medallic Art Company, NY
Locations: One of the copies is in a personal collection and one at the Museum of Fine Arts. Gift of Henry P. Richmond

Bas-relief portrait, 13.5 in x 11.25 in, Cast in plaster and bronze, Exhibited at the Guild of Boston Artists 1913

Attleboro, Massachusetts was the connecting link between these two artists and their wives. Both couples stayed connected to Attleboro over the years, visiting their parents who continued to live there.

Caleb Arnold Slade had been educated in the public schools of New Bedford, but his parents relocated to Attleboro around 1900 when Slade entered Brown University. He didn’t discover his future profession, however, until after his graduation from Brown when he happened upon the Hudson River art colony and began sketching. He met Irene Wells, an Attleboro resident, and married her in 1906.  It was she who urged him to study the academic style of painting. Within four years of his first art class both the town of Attleboro and the town library purchased Slade’s paintings. The library featured him in a one-man show and purchased a mural from him in 1913.

Allen grew up in Attleboro and went through their public school system, graduating in 1907. He met Agnes just after she moved to town and later married his young bride the day after her graduation as valedictorian in 1913. Allen’s first bronze cast was a bas-relief, which he gave to the High School as a gift at his graduation. He was commissioned to do a lettered plaque for a town cemetery and a war memorial in bas-relief, still at the entrance to Attleboro’s Capron Park today.

Paris was also a link between the two men. Arnold began his formal education in the arts in 1907 in New York and went on to Paris to L’École des Beaux-Arts where he studied anatomy according to the academic tradition. The Slades rented a small apartment on the Left Bank and by 1909 Arnold was enrolled at Académie Julian, a school that accepted women into its classes. His wife was often a model for the students there.* After Frederick’s formal education in Rhode Island and Boston, the Allens traveled to Paris in June of 1913 and rented a small studio apartment, also on the Left Bank. He studied at the Académie Julian where C. Arnold Slade was enrolled as a student and there in Paris modeled the bas-relief of his friend. Arnold spent his summers in Normandy painting the peasants on the coast in the village of Etaples, so they only had two or three weeks together to complete the portrait before the trip. He did so in July and had it cast in bronze for 30 francs. * One of the Etaples paintings was bought by Isabella Stewart Gardner for her palace next to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts where Allen was teaching.(biographical information from “True Visions: The Paintings of C. Arnold Slade [1882-1961]” by Julie Carlson Eldred)

A third link was Maine, a destination of many artists traveling to paint its beautiful rugged coastline and ocean scenes. Later in life, Slade spent time painting in Ogunquit while Allen sculpted from the stones he found along the coast of North Haven Island in Penobscot Bay.

The original plaster cast was last sold by a dealer in 1989 who didn’t keep records. The portrait is still missing. The whereabouts of the bronze is also unknown, but it was exhibited at the opening show of the Guild of Boston Artists in November of 1914. Allen was a founding member of the GBA.

1913 Paris Studio of Frederick Warren Allen, Sculptor. The bas-relief of painter Caleb Arnold Slade is in the foreground. Frederick and Agnes recline in the background below his sketches done in the museums and ateliers of Paris.

Bas-relief in bronze of Caleb Arnold Slade at the Guild of Boston Artists founding show, November 1914, Frederick Warren Allen, Sculptor, hung on the wall to the left of the painting above the fireplace.

In this original photograph taken in 1913 of Allen and his wife in their Paris studio, you can see the clay sculpture of Slade on the easel in the foreground and what is probably a copy or an initial sketch on the wall just behind his head.

At the founding exhibit of the Guild of Boston Artists in 1914 (right), the Slade portrait was exhibited on the wall above the fireplace mantle to the left of the large painting.

Bas-relief (low relief) sculpture is difficult to do well. It involves carving an image in stone or clay, or raising one up from a flat surface with clay, using sometimes only one-eighth inch of depth in the modeling or carving. It is a challenge to show contrast, color, dimensionality, texture and detail in that shallow a depth while presenting a truthful likeness with personality. Sometimes called painting in clay, a bas-relief is almost a two-dimensional piece of art. Brushstroke effects can be created that are more difficult to achieve when carving in stone. Allen had good mentors to follow inheriting the legacy of Bela Pratt and Augustus St. Gaudens, both accomplished in their creation of coins as well as portraits and larger figures in relief.

St. Gaudens was a bas-relief innovator who passed his techniques on to Pratt and Pratt to Allen. Notice Allen’s use of St. Gaudens’ “trademark compositional devices: vertical formats, profile portraits, decorative inscriptions, and individualizing attributes.” * Notice in this portrait the brush and palette, symbols of the painter and the painterly background texture. Consider the contrasts that shape the face as if it were applied color, and the highlights and shadows that show details in an impressionistic way. *(Thayer Tolles from his essay on “American Relief Sculpture” from the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History)

The portrait relief of Slade is the sixth of over forty in our records accomplished by F.W. Allen in his lifetime. Slade himself was well known for his portraits, paying his parents back for his education with these commissions. Later in his life, in the 1930s, he supported himself by painting portraits of influential political and military figures and their families in Washington, D.C..

Slade had created Sladeville in Truro. He started with an abandoned church, moved to a hillside with sunset views, and made it into a studio and gallery surrounded by rental cottages for artists. Although there was much opportunity for socializing in his life, Slade was a quiet man and preferred the meditative atmosphere of his studio and the companionship of his friends. In Paris he was not a painter of the café life, but kept more to images of the French gardens and coastal subjects, religious figures and Biblical stories, compelling images of the war in France and colorful scenes from his travels. Both men died in 1961, Allen in his retirement home in Rumney, New Hampshire and Slade in his place of repose and creativity on Cape Cod.

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.

Boston Public Library War Memorial, Bronze, 1924

May 2, 2011

“It was a clear Sunday morning with a hint of winter in the air. In the courtyard, the Library choristers who had arried early, and without hats, shivered a little. The draped flag between the windows attracted many of the curious. At eleven, library officials, committee members, and guests entered the courtyard, which by then [...]

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Abraham Lincoln, Bronze, 1922

May 1, 2011

Who would have known that Abraham Lincoln‘s lineage goes back to the 1630′s in New England? His son, Robert Todd Lincoln did and, attaching a sentimental value to those origins, funded this very fine memorial to his father to be placed in the New England Historic Genealogical Society‘s building when it was at Ashburton Place [...]

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Abraham Shuman, bronze, 1918

March 7, 2011

“Far seeing merchant, citizen, sage, counsellor and administrator, constant friend of humanity,” reads the inscription. Abraham Shuman was a philanthropist who made his fortune in the clothing business and helped the poor by donating generously to the Boston City Hospital. He served on the City Hospital Board of Trustees for fifteen years, part of that time [...]

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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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Cole Family, Wheaton College, 1926-1928

February 20, 2011

It was the vision of Samuel Valentine Cole to make Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts a four-year college from a a seminary for women, and thus he became one of the most important figures in its history. Noticed by Mrs. Wheaton when still a minister, she appointed him as a trustee in 1893. He worked [...]

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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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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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