Thursday, February 12, 2009

Weary Warrior


I pass by the equestrian statue of Ulysses S. Grant in Grant Square (where Bedford and Rodgers meet between Bergen and Dean) fairly frequently, and it never fails to draw my attention. It's almost the antithesis of a war memorial; Grant looks tired and bedraggled, wearing a grim, exhausted expression. Even if one stands too far away from it to see the general's face or features (as most do, since it sits amidst roaring traffic), the statue evokes slow sadness--the horse is barely moving, and Grant is leaning heavily forward in the saddle. A look at it suggests that the sculptor, William Ordway Partridge, was both a master and disinclined to produce a run-of-the-mill propagana piece.

I'm not the only one to have noticed this. In a NYSun article on the North Crown Heights Historic District, Francis Morrone writes: "The statue belongs to the same intensely naturalistic school as Henry Shrady's George Washington in Williamsburg's Continental Army Plaza. Partridge's statue shows a war-weary general, an image more deeply affecting than that of any peacockproud hero." It's a tribute particularly befitting Grant, a man with demons who understood the toll of war despite his success on the battlefield and who, at the end of his life, was intensely critical of those campaigns he saw as unjust, particularly the Mexican-American War. Morrone notes that the statue was erected in 1896 by the "august" Union League Club, a well-to-do Republican group. Original articles announcing the completion and unveilling in the NYTimes can be found here and here, informing us that the mayors of both New York and Brooklyn were present.

As for the sculptor, the Massachusetts-born W. O. Patridge spent time enough in New York city to grieve that the "automobile craze" was siphoning funding away from the arts (that cars could be considered substitute goods for commissioned works is a glimpse into the brief era of automobiles as luxury goods) and to call the Flatiron building "a disgrace to the city." A lion's share of his work graces the city's public spaces, including statues of Jefferson at the New York Historical Society and Columbia, and the "Peace Head" at the Met. Patridge died in NYC in 1930. His collected papers are held in Virgina at William and Mary.

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