The Puritan (Deacon Samuel Chapin)

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The Puritan (Deacon Samuel Chapin)

United States, 1899
Sculpture
Bronze with dark green patina
31 x 20 1/2 x 12 3/4 in. (78.7 x 52.1 x 32.4 cm)
Art Museum Council Fund (M.91.74)
Not currently on public view

About The Era

After the centennial of 1876 the foremost place for American artists to show was no longer New York but Paris....
After the centennial of 1876 the foremost place for American artists to show was no longer New York but Paris. By the late nineteenth century the Paris Salon was the most important exhibition space in the Western world. Artists from many nations would submit their best works to its annual exhibition. The honor of being accepted presaged an artist’s future success. Thousands of paintings, sculptures, and works on paper were presented at each Salon; the exhibition halls were so crowded that paintings were hung to the ceiling with sculptures scattered about. To be hung “on the line” (at eye level) meant a work of art ranked among the best in the show. Since a painting might be skied (hung near the ceiling), many artists painted on a large scale to ensure that their work could be seen no matter where it was placed.
Contrary to earlier periods, American painting in the late 1800s was no longer dominated by a single aesthetic. Munich-school paintings—narrative scenes, often based on literature or history and painted in a dark palette—as well as small figure paintings in the realist tradition were popular in both France and the United States. Large portraits represent the academic style that dominated official taste during this era. Bright, sun-drenched scenes by a more progressive group of artists, the impressionists are diametrically opposite in color, mood, and concept to muted tonalist and symbolist works. Whereas the impressionists celebrated contemporary life with all its transformations, the tonalists and symbolists created hazily illuminated, dreamlike imagery.
Sculptures range from academic examples of idealized mythological imagery to expressions of the newer interest in the emotive potential of the human form. Equestrian bronzes by Frederic Remington demonstrate that at the turn of the century there was a continuing enthusiasm for heroic depictions of the West despite the increased internationalism of American taste.
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Label

This figure was originally created as a statue in honor of Deacon Samuel Chapin (1595-1675), one of the founders of Springfield, Massachusetts....
This figure was originally created as a statue in honor of Deacon Samuel Chapin (1595-1675), one of the founders of Springfield, Massachusetts. Unveiled in 1887, the monument immediately confirmed Saint-Gaudens’ reputation as the leading American sculptor of his day. Saint-Gaudens was one of several American artists who in the 1890s began to have their large public sculptures made in reduced size for broader distribution. The Chapin figure was cast in a thirty-inch format and, under the title The Puritan, became one of America’s most popular bronzes at the turn of the century. The museum cast was produced by the short-lived New York foundry Aubry Brothers and Company around 1904. Dressed in seventeenth-century colonial attire, the deacon carries a large Bible in his left hand and a walking stick in his right. The details of his face were modeled after one of his descendants, but Saint-Gaudens went beyond mere portraiture. The figure’s stern visage and assertive stance convey his political and spiritual authority and suggest the determination of the Puritans who left their homeland in search of religious freedom. The figure is also cloaked in mystery: the shadows cast by the broad-brimmed hat and the heavy cape create an aura of introspection. In transcending the literalism of most sculpture of the time, The Puritan reflects a more general questioning of materialism at the close of the nineteenth century.
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Bibliography

  • Coleman, Rhoda.  "Teaching About Religion through the Visual Arts."  Social Studies Review: Journal for the California Council for the Social Studies 40 (2): 44 (Spring/Summer 2001).