Bernard M. Keyes, 1928-30

Bronze portrait bust, green patina mounted on wooden base

Bernard M. Keyes, 1898-1973, Bronze (26 in.) by Frederick Warren Allen, Sculptor. Painter, Instructor at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Gift of the Sharf Family to the MFA

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 to America in 1922 he began to teach painting classes at the SMFA. Allen and Keyes became colleagues. Art in Transition by Pierce lists him as head of the department that taught Perspective from 1927 on, a required course.

This bronze bust was cast about 1930 and was later given as a gift by the Sharf family to the Museum of Fine Arts. It was on display on the floor above the rotunda of the MFA in 2008 where it flanked the doorway paired with a bust of Charles Grafly, the predecessor of Frederick Allen as Head of the Sculpture Department.

The Keyes bust is the lighted piece on the pedestal to the right of the door with the oval shaped glass.

In an introductory letter (25 Jan 1989) to Alfred J. Walker Fine Art, Jonathan Fairbanks, Curator, describes the bust. “Allen detached Keyes from associations with a particular period and place by utilizing the classical herm form of the base. This block-like shape creates a sense of timelessness, by omitting contemporary dress which situates a work in time. Allen countered the severe frontality of the base by turning Keyes’ head ever so slightly to the left, a device which engages the viewer and gives the portrait immediacy. Further, the expressive eyes and lips give a wonderful sense of alertness to the face.”

He adds, “ It seems likely that Allen may have invited Keyes to sit for his bust, perhaps in exchange for a painting, … following the example of [Charles] Grafly (SMFA Sculpture Department head from 1917-1929), who had done fourteen such busts of his artist friends. … It is an important and intrinsic example of Bostoniana.”

Compare this bust Allen’s portrait of William Isaac Cole at Wheaton College sculpted in 1927 and his self-portrait bust from 1919. All three illustrate the principles he taught: a strong inner structure with movement in the details of the surface forms, the neck 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.

Paxton bust by Charles Grafly
William Cole bust by F.W. Allen
F.W. Allen self portrait bust

His style was based upon the esthetic of the Boston School of Artists who trained him, that of ideal beauty with truthful and natural representation, crafted with sophistication and executed with skill in the academic disciplines. His use of the clay in modeling this portrait is somewhat impressionistic in the play of light to suggest forms without completing all the details.

His skill in creating likenesses is evident here and his mastery over this art form shows the legacy of his training with Bela Lyon Pratt, his close association with Charles Grafly, and his study of the portraits of the masters Auguste Rodin and Pratt’s teacher, Augustus St. Gaudens.

Size: 66.04 x 29.21 x 30.48 cm (26 x 11 1/2 x 12 in.) also measured in MFA records as 22 ½” h x 13” w x 9” d on a bow-front wooden base 8 ½” w x 6 ¾”-7 ¾” d x 3” h
Signed on proper right side: “F.W.ALLEN”
Foundry mark below signature: “IDEAL CASTING CO. PROV.RI”
Herm format bust, hollow back
Location: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. MA #1989.4
Exhibited: 2008 at Museum of Fine Arts from their collection
Gift of Jean S. and Frederick A. Sharf
Provenance: Allen to Bernard Keyes to Margaret K. Smith (sister), to Alfred J. Walker Fine Art who sold it to the MFA with funds donated by the Sharfs.

4 thoughts on “Bernard M. Keyes, 1928-30

  1. I have a Keyes painting from pre-1923, sold to my grandfather by Henry Lawrence Doyle, It is of a girl with a small elephant. I have pictures of his workshop. Very cool.

    1. You may have seen the Allen direct carving of the Elephant. He loved sculpting animals, so this painting by Keyes of an elephant is an interesting connection that could be made between the artists. I would love to see the painting and the pictures of his studio. An studio always says so much about the artist !

  2. old friend & neighbor of of my family as we lived next door and became quick friends. I have searched trying to find the work of elizabeth mc lean smith it would be such a nice treat for my family to see her work again.. I recall the releif bas being created in her home on Russell St. As I recall, the bas consisted of 2-3 sections. it depicted a colonial scene of common everyday activites in the town/settlement. Families walking about in the market places. Ms Smith pointed out a father and daughter and Betty said that the two were of me & my father.
    Needless to, its close to our hearts. When inquire at locations some Betty\’s works are suppose to be we are never given a response. How do we get these museums to answer us.

    1. Elizabeth MacLean Smith was a long-time assistant to Allen, both in his studio and in the classroom. Her essay about him and his teachings are extremely informative and insightful. Without that document, we would not have information about how he taught sculpture and what he taught. Have you contacted the School of the Museum of Fine Arts? Their librarians are very helpful. Please share with me anything you find about her so I can include the information in the upcoming monograph about Allen\’s life and work.

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