Thayer Tolles, Metropolitan Museum of Art
This lecture is generously co-sponsored by the Victorian Alliance of San Francisco.
Frederick William MacMonnies | Bacchante and Infant Faun
Since 1897, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has prominently displayed Frederick William MacMonnies’s Bacchante and Infant Faun (1893-94). This over life-size bronze sculpture of a dancing female gleefully holding an infant in one arm and grapes aloft in the other, is often associated with the scandal that led to its acquisition: the public uproar over the impropriety of the figure’s nudity and her apparent inebriation that spurred its owner, architect Charles McKim, to withdraw it as a gift to the Boston Public Library and give it to The Met. While scholars have focused on issues of censorship, there is much more to consider with this American icon. MacMonnies used this sculpture to market himself as a cosmopolitan artist both before and after the Boston controversy. His choice of subject matter was timely and calculated, inserting his bronze in a legacy of representations of Bacchantes from 18th- and 19th-century European works on paper to 18th- and 19th-century French sculptures by Clodion, Carpeaux, and Rodin. He shrewdly navigated the business of sculpture making and marketing from its display in the Paris Salon of 1894 to his production of smaller-scale casts in three sizes for an eager American market. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Bacchante was known by all, as evidenced not only by artistic responses in paintings, photography, and sculpture, but also popular ones in the form of souvenirs, poems, songs, and other writings.
Thayer Tolles joined the staff of the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1992 where she currently serves as the Marica F. Vilcek Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture. A sculpture specialist, she edited and co-authored a two-volume catalogue of the Museum’s historic American sculpture collection (1999, 2001), participated in the department’s renovation and reinstallation between 2001 and 2012, and organized numerous exhibitions with accompanying catalogues, including Augustus Saint-Gaudens in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009) and The American West in Bronze, 1850–1925 (2013–15). Dr. Tolles’ most current publications include “Before the Farragut: Who Was Augustus Saint-Gaudens?” in New York: Art and Cultural Capital of the Gilded Age. Routledge, 2018; “‘One of the Greatest Interests of His Life’: Daniel Chester French and The Metropolitan Museum of Art,” Fine Art Connoisseur 13 (June 2016), pp. 56-61; and three catalogue entries on Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. A graduate of Williams College, she received her MA from the University of Delaware and her PhD from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.