Bronze Fountain Figure
The model for this little girl whirling in a dance was Frederick Allen’s little daughter Barbara. She clearly remembers posing for him. “My first real memory of my father was way back before 7 Columbia Terrace. [first home] I must have been two or three years old and we lived in a room or apartment near the Museum. He was modeling a garden figure in a separate room he used for a studio. He’d lift me up in my bathing suit onto a wooden stand and arrange my arms and legs. I’d try to hold the pose while he looked back and forth, working on his figure. Of course it was very tiring and he’d lift me down for brief rests. That is still a vivid memory and I feel akin to the little tot in the photograph.” She added a very personal comment to her daughter, that there was no toilet where he was working, only a sink, so when she needed to use one he would lift her up into the sink. (From the written and dictated memories of Barbara Allen)
As a study piece, this sculpture illustrates several of the principles of figure work that Allen taught at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He explained that all figures have inner movement, the “line of action” being the center line of the figure from any side. The outlines or edges of the figure curve, following the middle of the line of action like a river flowing between its banks.
The line of action here travels up through the sinuous curves of the lower body and torso as it twists and bends and turns from the feet through the top of the head. Thus you can “follow the main swing of [the] mass … The center line curves and the outlines move with it.”
A compositional format Allen favored was the shape and movement of a spiral or vortex. He uses it here, the beginning point of the spiral located where the child’s left foot is firmly anchored to the ground. The spiral begins to turn with the raised heel of the right foot. The reaction of the leg in response is, first, to bend the knee forward, initiating a spin to the left. The second response is to flex the hip at the top of the thigh arching the lower back and bringing the lower abdomen forward. The raised foot raises the pelvis on the right, tipping it so that the spine bends to the right in a C-curve to balance the tilt of the pelvis. The momentum has started and now intensifies in the movement of the thorax and right arm, held up and outward. The shoulders tilt as the left arm bends and rises to the level of the head, the face turning right to look over that shoulder. The mass of the bent elbow and the negative space within it balances the weight of the head.
From the front, the triangle of the vortex is formed from the feet to the hair above the forehead on one side to the tip of the raised elbow on the other. If this figure could be seen from the side, another triangle would form to the front and back with lower raised hand and backward tilted head and spinning hair, then up and out to the elbow. The figure could spin on its round base like a glockenspiel figure and be perfectly balanced. The vortex turns on a disk, anchored off-center to a truncated cone drum, decorated with rams heads joined by festoons and bound with crossed ribbons. The base molding modifies the motif with a bundle of reeds bound with crossed ribbons ringing the circumference.
On a personal note, little Barbara was an active and imaginative artistic girl. She loved to dance and continued to do so into her married life. Here Allen lovingly poses his daughter dancing, arranging her little body with the accurate anatomy of a child in a pose full of movement.
If made into a fountain it would have been cast in bronze.
Agnes Allen lists under Imaginative Studies in her list of the Sculpture Works of Frederick W. Allen “Dancing Girl . (Destroyed.)”
Newspaper: Boston Sunday Herald, February 20, 1921