Bryant and Matthews

Portrait bust or bas-relief portrait
Sold for $350
(missing, no image)

Allen’s private pupil starting in 1917 at age 46, daughter of Annie Fay Matthews

Nanna Matthews Bryant (1871-1933) was a painting student at the Museum School and later one of Allen’s private sculpture students. She came to sculpting when she was a mature woman, having been focused on painting, as was her husband Wallace Bryant, a portrait painter. They lived in the Back Bay on 9 Exeter Street in a building owned by her mother, Annie Fay Matthews. As daughter of a Boston Brahmin family, part of Nanna’s childhood was spent in Rome where her family traveled. She was exposed frequently to great art in Europe and studied painting in Paris at the Académie Julian. When Wallace and Nanna Bryant separated, Nanna moved back to their 9 Exeter Street home where she lived until 1921 at which time she took over the home of her maternal aunt at 94 Beacon Street upon the aunt’s death in 1921.

The estate also lists 198 Commonwealth Avenue as Annie Bolton (Fay) Matthew’s property. It had been built in 1880 as her home with her husband, the housewares merchant William A. Matthews. Annie Fay Matthews continued to live there with her stepson until her death in 1916 and maintained Angleside, a summer home in Waltham, MA. The house on Commonwealth then became the property of Nanna Matthews Bryant, who converted it into an upscale lodging house. However, it didn’t meet the permit requirements for that use and subsequently became part of the Guild & Evans School for Girls, later called the Choate School for Girls in another location. When she died, her several properties were left to charitable organizations to take effect when her sister and daughter died.

It was about the time of Nanna’s separation from her husband Wallace that she had begun studying sculpture with Frederick Allen and commissioned him to do either a portrait bust or a relief of Mrs. Matthews, presumably her mother. Allen’s Diary shows a bust of Mrs. Matthews on a commissions list dated 1917. There is no price attached so there is a question about whether it was completed or whether the commission was changed from a bust to a relief. The same list that names the Matthews portrait includes a list of seven private student fees, Mrs. Matthews among them, paying $236. She had also ordered an enlargement of his Fountain.

The commissions list that follows in the diary is for the 1917-1918 year which also includes “Mrs. Bryant, present of 15” and “Matthews relief” for $350, so here might be the answer to what happened to the bust. Again on a 1919 list is found “Bryant lessons  100.” His address book lists Bryant at 9 Exeter Street with a post office box in Auburndale and an additional address at 1230 Waltham confirming her identity.

When Nanna Matthews Bryant finally decided she couldn’t resist doing sculpture, she was already well-schooled in the classical painting arts of the Beaux-Arts French style, so had been properly trained in all the disciplines needed for studying sculpture as well as for her painting work. She fell naturally into the three-dimensional world and produced lovely serious traditional figurative work, modeling and casting in bronze and doing her own carving in marble. Through this material, although it was plain white, she found that she could express color through the variations created when light hit the marble. So Nanna Bryant sculpted “in color” using her training as a painter and applying it to her white figures.

John LaFarge (1831-1910), a painter friend of the sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens, encouraged him to “paint a bas-relief.” “The lights and shadows are produced not by white paper or crayon strokes, but by the falling of the light upon the elevations and depressions of the surface.” “As the painter concentrates the light and shade upon the head, so does the sculptor, by increasing its projection.”(Masters Old and New by Kenyon Cox, p.273) Allen taught the same techniques, having learned his craft in the lineage of St. Gaudens.

Bryant reflects on those teachings, “After all, why not paint in stone? By ‘painting in stone,’ I mean the expression of color in the tones of the shadows … It should be just as much of the sculptor’s effort to obtain harmony of color as it is to obtain value of line and mass. Light and shade can be made to impart color.” (Taken from the Greenthal essay in the MFA book p.337 referencing “Pictures Painted in Marble,” International Studio 76 (Jan. 1923), pp. 339-340) In a review from an early exhibition of a marble statuette “Flower of the Earth” in 1918, the Boston Evening Transcript review from Jan 2,1919 read, “The modeling of the figure is distinctly fine, and the pose brings out very advantageously the beautifully subtle curves of the contour of the figure. Mrs. Bryant is a pupil of Mr. F. W. Allen and a graduate of the Museum School.” (there is a photo of this in auction records, cast in bronze with a pale patina) Reference Greenthal note #2, p 337.

Nanna Matthews Bryant, Head of a Woman, about 1920. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

A later review from 1923 read, “She has filled the large room devoted to her marble with a variety of animated figures and groups which display a versatility, energy, and imagination quite unique.” (Greenthal Note 4. P.337 from Christian Science Monitor, Jan 25, 1923) Learning to sculpt from Allen, starting in her 40s, she matured quickly in her new artistic expression and exhibited widely with critical approval from 1918-1931. Two years before her death in 1933 at her summer home in Waltham, MA, she was awarded the Sterling Memorial Sculpture prize, an honor from the New Haven Paint and Clay Club. (Refer to her biography in American Figurative Sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, an essay by Katherine Greenthal, pp.336-339, listing in Who Was Who in American Art by Peter Falk) An oval framed miniature of her father William C. Fay by an unknown artist is in the collection of the MFA, a bequest of Annie Bolton Matthews Bryant in 1934. (MFA Acession Number 34.35)

Note: The Bryant/Matthews family seem to have been connected to the Lyman family both through their Boston social connections and through their summer estates in Waltham.

In an effort to confirm that connection, a letter was sent to Historic New England, “Hello, I’m doing research on the life and work of sculptor Frederick W. Allen. Allen took a death mask on April 18, 1933 of Arthur T. Lyman, Jr. Do you have any record of that commission in your archives?  Second, does the death mask or a bronze copy of it exist in the estate records or present holdings. Third, Nanna Matthews Bryant was a student of F.W. Allen and owned the summer home named Angleside just 3 miles from the Lyman Estate. I believe her mother, Annie Bolton Fay Matthews was friends with the Lymans, living also in the Back Bay close to the Lymans. Do you have any information on Angleside or the Matthews estate? Nanna Matthews Bryant died at Angleside in 1933, the same year that Arthur Lyman,Jr. died at The Vale. Thanks for any information you can share!”

They answered but a clear connection was not made. See the complete story here.


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