Hermes, 1915-1917

Niche Figure for Gale
Bronze fountain figure

What a godlike figure is this Hermes. Beautiful, proud, virile, strong, the clever messenger of the gods! He’s glorious! He stands casually and confidently on his right leg, the left slightly bent and unweighted in the classical contrapposto stance. In his left hand he holds the Caduceus against the base behind his foot, the medical symbol of a staff with two snakes twined around it. The chlamys or short woolen cloak he holds in his right hand at the shoulder wraps around his back and across his left thigh and groin. He wears the winged hat for which he is famous and there appears to be a wing on the left heel like his Roman counterpart, Mercury. He stands on a flared square base, slightly wider at the bottom and decorated with rams heads and festoons. Myth credits Hermes with saving Tanagra from the plague by carrying a ram on his shoulders around the walls of the city, thus, the ram has become a symbol of the deity. The image shown here is the clay version of the final bronze cast.

The text accompanying the photograph in the publication, “In The Galleries” (Museum of Fine Arts), describes it as having been “designed and made for a niche fountain at the end of a long hallway. Three rams heads spout tiny streams of water into a black marble basin. The delicate tracery of the twined serpents and the wings of the head-piece form a pleasing contrast to the simple solid masses of the figure. This kind of treatment was especially good as the whole piece counts more as a silhouette than anything else, on account of the dark bronze coming against a light marble background.”

Two photographs exist, one from The Galleries publication and one in a studio photo where Allen is surrounded by sculptures, one of them Hermes. It is almost certain that the model for the figure was one Allen used often in the early stage of his career as listed in his diary in 1914.“This winter saw the first of my ideal work exhibited. Worked much from model (man). Made Cain, Flight of the Arrow, Moon Sprite, Primeval Prayer.” The same model was likely used for Orpheus, exhibited at the St. Botolph Club in April 1916 and Gladiator Victor from the same year and show.

Research into the person who might have ordered this classic piece of sculpture leads to a Mr. Herbert E. Gale, a shoe merchant and employer with a large household in Haverhill, known as a shoe manufacturing city boasting large Victorian mansions. Records show that he had a home in downtown Haverhill near the city center where there are many of these large homes. The census lists him at 35 Summer Street with a staff of live-in servants. Allen’s address list includes H. E. Gale in Swampscott with directions on the train to Lynn to “Beach Bluff or Marble Head electrics” to Phillips Corner. There is now a Phillips-Preston Beach at Beach Bluff; Gale and his wife were married in Marblehead. The listing also includes the Greenbriar Hotel, an elegant classical historic resort in White Sulphur Springs in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia. It is doubtful that this classical sculpture in a marble niche fountain would have been in a shoe factory, so the possibility that Mr. Herbert Gale might have purchased it for the Greenbriar Hotel is being researched.

Location “in a niche at the end of a long hallway”
Size unknown, approx. 3-4’
MFA Publication: “In The Galleries” (date unknown)
Exhibited: Museum of Fine Arts
Diary listing June 1, 1917 as “Nitch figure-Gales” with an entry underneath for “Plaster casting 148” that may refer to the figure.

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