Mrs. John S. Lawrence, 1917

Bronze portrait bust

Mrs. John S. Lawerence by Tarbell (1912).

In the Allen Diary, the clay he mentioned bringing from school in a suitcase on April 17, 1912 to the home of the famous Miss Edyth Deacon was for the Lawrence bust he had been commissioned to sculpt. He didn’t have a studio of his own at that time and had been looking earlier in the day at the third floor of the St. Botolph Club. There was no “top light” there as preferred by sculptors, so he continued his search. The effort of carrying the heavy clay kicked up the pain he had been experiencing in his abdomen for which he later required surgery.

Edyth was a classmate who had also given him another commission, the portrait of Bay Meyer, son of the Secretary of the Navy. He started work on the Lawrence bust April 23rd, finished the modeling in a month and had it cast on Memorial Day weekend. So that Agnes could see his work, he took the bust home to show her. It was finally shipped on September 19th. A photo of the sculpture was published with a review of a show at the St. Botolph Club in the Boston Evening Transcript March 3, 1915 with the caption, “Mrs. John S. Lawrence of Boston. This photo was taken while work was still in the clay. It was later cast in bronze and mounted on a black walnut base. The Greek type of head is accentuated by the Greek costume used as drapery over the shoulders.”

Clay portrait bust of Mrs. John S. Lawrence of Boston by sculptor Frederick Allen Warren. Photograph © Boston Evening Transcript (3 March 1915).

The portrait of this socially prominent woman was created in an “ideal” style, consistent with the cultural practice in fine nineteenth century homes. She is portrayed here as demure and lovely with downcast eyes and head tilted thoughtfully to her left. Her thick hair is pulled to the back of her head from a side part and her neck, shoulders and upper chest are exposed. The garment she wears is draped softly from clasps that hold it at each shoulder.

“Drawing on the methodologies of cultural studies–in particular studies of consumption, cultural biography, and material culture — I explore the role ideal sculpture played in sacralizing and sentimentalizing the nineteenth-century American home, and in constructing concepts of family, nationality, gender, race and class that were fundamental to individuals’ understandings, and public presentations, of themselves.” 1

The Lawrence family was influential and well-known. They had built their own Episcopal church a block from Beacon Street in Brookline; The Church of Our Saviour is still on the corner of Monmouth and Carlton Streets. There was a Katherine Lawrence Putnam of Boston in his classes pursuing the art education fitting for a lady. There are two Lawrence entries in his list of addresses at the back of his diary. One looks like a Mrs. J.I. Lawrence in Topsfield, Massachusetts and the other a G.S.Lawrence at “355 Beacon.”

An aside about the Lawrence family: Allen had understood that Mrs. Lawrence had ordered a fountain (see May 3, 1912 and a note in his list for the Fall on the same date). He notes later that a letter was received from her in April saying she had not ordered a fountain. Perhaps it was just a miscommunication.

Title: Mrs. John S. Lawrence (1912)
Medium or Technique: Bronze portrait bust mounted on a black walnut base
Exhibitions: St. Boltolph Club (March 1915)
Publications: Boston Evening Transcript (3 March 1915)
Notes: Sold for $250.00, listed in the Allen diary (1912)


1 “Presiding Divinities: Ideal Sculpture in Nineteenth Century American Domestic Interiors” Dissertation: Lessing, Lauren Keach

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