“The day of the tin-hat soldier in granite or bronze is past. But the day of memorials is not past, and never will be. We shall always be eager to commemorate brave deeds, whether of peace or war. War rouses a whole people more than any other single thing does, and so results in a greater crop of memorials.” In this newspaper article Allen laments the fact that committees choose the designs for memorials and that judges are often not “qualified to estimate their choices on artistic merit.” “We ought to make these commissions composed of the best talent in sculpture and general art that we can find” and pay them a salary for their expertise in a choice that educates public taste.
“We have to remember that time is required to produce a great work of art. It is impossible for a conscientious artist, unless he happens to have a stroke of real genius, to make a monument that will be really worthy without much experimentation, much thinking, much changing.” He gives as examples, Paul Bartlett’s statue of Lafayette in Paris and St. Gaudens Shaw Memorial in Boston, which took 30 years to complete. “Comparatively few sculptors have the necessary income aside from their immediate work to enable them to take so much time … and so he accepts when the offer is made.” The quality of the resulting memorials is compromised.
Allen was “impressed and gratified” when the Roslindale committee said “We would like to get a war memorial for our town embodying symbolism rather than realism.” And so he made two studies, one of which is shown here.
“I have embodied the idea of the Future, which is shrouded in mystery, accompanied by Peace on the one hand, protecting infant industry, and by Military Courage on the other, [ready to defend the country]. ….. Peace cannot exist without Military Courage. As the upholders of the Future the two march together.” His desire was to leave our descendants with “an inheritance of beauty and spiritual power.”
No more needs to be said about the symbolism and spiritual power in this sketch. He made that clear in his own words, but the artistic merit he would not discuss saying with his usual modesty, “No, I have nothing to say about my own work; if there is any good in it, let it speak for itself.” One is reminded in his figural work of those sculptors he admired: his teacher Paul Wayland Bartlett, his Concord colleague Daniel Chester French and his teacher’s mentor, Augustus St. Gaudens. Compare this model to Bartlett’s pediment for the Library of Congress, French’s “Death and the Sculptor” of the Milmore Memorial and St. Gaudens “Adams Memorial.” The drapery of the shrouded central figure in this sketch is dramatic and unique, more modern in style than the classics, but demonstrating skill and individuality in its treatment.
Compositionally, the figure stands silent and tall at the center, towering over the other figures just as the future looms veiled before those who walk toward it. The lack of surface detail forms a quieting counterpoint to the comparative busyness of the flanking figures, which are classical, realistic and beautiful, very much in keeping with Allen’s disciplined Beaux Arts style training. There is additional activity created by the details of the headpieces and decorative elements he chose. For example, the olive leaf crown is symbolic of peace and victory and is used, for example, in St. Gaudens Sherman Monument and in Allen’s own war memorial to peace in Dedham, MA. The
The stances are indicative of their individual objectives and the gaze of the side figures is upward and forward looking into the anticipated future.
Compositional studies using three figures are found in the classical pediments with the tallest under the peak of the triangle. Anticipating the pediment he would soon create for the New York Courthouse, one can see how he might have used the ideas from this study in that masterpiece. There the central figure is larger than life, the symbol of Justice. On either side of her one finds a draped female figure with wings and a male semi-nude military figure backed by a circular shield. The same elements are here. Unifying the composition is the arching back plate high at the center (reference the Milmore Memorial) and grounded by a thick, two-stepped rectangular base with scalloped corners. The whole is compositionally sound and inspiring in its message. It’s a shame that a much simpler and more static granite memorial by Albert Atkins was chosen.