France and its artists made a strong impact on American artists in the 19th and 20th centuries. From our advantage point in the 21st century, we can use art history to find the usual names of the Franco-American transatlantic world. Well-known American artists such as Mary Cassatt and Alexander Calder who spent time studying art and becoming a part of the art world in France. Though they never fully lost their ties to the United States. For many artists and the elite social classes, the Atlantic world meant steamship travel back and forth across the ocean. They worked on commissions in major and sometimes minor cities both in France and the United States.
Putting Together the Pieces of a Prolific Artist’s Life and Work
One of these Franco-American transatlantic artists was Paul Wayland Bartlett (1865-1925). With his father’s permission, he moved to Paris at age 14 to study. His apprenticeship was spent in the ateliers of the most famous artists of the day, including Pierre-Jules Cavalier, Emmanuel Fremiet, and Auguste Rodin. He did not let them down. He grew up living and breathing art and at age twenty-two won his first award at the Paris Salon.
Bartlett had dozens of high-profile artistic commissions, including the Lafayette Monument in Paris and in Metz. And he completed bronze sculptures of Michelangelo and Columbus for the interior of the Library of Congress (whose book collection was started by Francophile Thomas Jefferson). But Bartlettt andhis Lafayette Monument are somewhat forgotten today.
The legacy of Paul Wayland Bartlett
What could be the reason for the public to forget Bartlett? After his untimely death from blood poisoning in 1925, his second wife Susanne Ogden-Jones worked hard to keep Bartlett’s artwork in public view. Between the World Wars was a time of great change for the western world. Modern art was ascendant. And for some, Bartlett worked in an outdated style. He did not live long enough to pursue further artistic evolution. And so, his artwork is frozen in time.
But there is something special about his art. Especially so in the small sculptures of animals that he did throughout his life, which still speaks to viewers. At Tudor Place in Washington, DC (https://tudorplace.org/) which holds some of his archives and that of his wife, a small bronze-colored reproduction of his Baby Robin is a sell-out in the gift shop. Bartlett as a naturalist is worth exploring.
Bartlett as a monumentalist is also worth exploring. Using his most famous artwork, the Lafayette Monument, as the linchpin of his life—there is the Paul Wayland Bartlett as a young man before the Lafayette commission, and the experienced Paul Wayland Bartlett who came after.
Laura A. Macaluso, Ph.D. writes about museums, monuments, and material culture at www.lauramacaluso.com.