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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Frederick MacMonnies' Once-Controversial Sculpture at the Boston Public Library

One of Boston’s most interesting sculptures, Bacchante and Infant Faun, is displayed in the courtyard of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square, Back Bay.  The masterpiece was created in 1893 by American-born sculptor Frederick MacMonnies, a disciple of Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

MacMonnies gave the original casting to his friend, architect Charles Follen McKim, whose own masterpiece, the Boston Public Library, was being built.  McKim in turn offered it as a gift to the Library, which installed it.  But an outcry ensued from opponents who objected to the nudity of Bacchante, the Goddess of Wine, and McKim withdrew the gift, giving it instead to the Metropolitan Museum of Artin New York City.

The controversy over the censorship of the artwork gained MacMonnies a certain notoriety, and he made numerous replicas of the work which he sold to museums and bronze statuettes, which he sold wholesale to the general public.

Nearly a century after the banning of the sculpture, an enlightened generation of library officials decided to commission a bronze copy made from a copy of the sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The work of art was unveiled in the  BPL courtyard in May 1993, after the library completed a multi-million dollar restoration.

The Special Collections Department at the BPL has documents pertaining to the planning, design, and installation of the art work at the McKim Building. Among the subjects: Frederick MacMonnies's (1863-1937) sculpture Bacchante, and the influence Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) had on the building's decorative features. 

Born in Brooklyn Heights on September 20, 1863, MacMonnies was the son of William and Julinana Eudora (West) MacMonnies, whose family came from Dumfries, Scotland.

MacMonnies died in 1937 in New York.

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