Bob Mueller writes:
It seems that I completely missed this one in the last issue and for the interest of fellow readers I felt I needed to weigh in. Here is an excerpt from my manuscript on Manship's medals...
The outbreak of the First World War in Europe heralded a period, as in any war, of intense national pride and artistic creativity. From the designing of monuments and decorations honoring the heroic to patriotic posters, art was created to stir the hearts and minds of the populace to a national unity of consciousness. Whether to build hope and pride or to instill outrage against the enemy, many artists focused their talents to the production of propagandistic works. The popularity of the poster, which had grown immeasurably during the latter half of the nineteenth century, made it the ideal medium for spreading the national ideology.
The medal though, became a more enduring means of communication. Their durability and portability made them ideal for disseminating propagandistic messages and they became the perfect forum for sculptors to express their own feelings about the war.
No country made better use of this medium than Germany and in their attempt to disassociate themselves from
the florid classicism that seemed to permeate the rest of Europe, developed an Ayrian style of heroic realism. Although they cannot be considered as good art, the medals produced sold very well and raised a great deal to swell the German war chests. As the war wore on the technique and style became almost as brutal as the subjects portrayed. Expressionist artists like Karl Goetz, Walther Eherbach, Zadikow and May produced hundreds of medals and some of the most horrific images ever seen in their 'Dance of Death'.
In France, though now the center of the Avant Garde movement and its radical new approach, the field of
medallic art seemed to be locked into increasingly sterile variations of Art Nouveau. The attempts to adapt
this decorative style to a brutal war failed miserably and the French medals of this period seem stiff and
America for the most part, exhibited a wait and see attitude as far as art was concerned. And although she
didn't enter the war until late in the conflict the American people opened their hearts and wallets to help
the war ravaged countries of Belgium, France and Italy. Some funds were raised through the sale of
commemorative medals such as the 'Jeanne D'Arc' for the Italian War Relief, but for the most part American
medallists remained uncommitted in their art. Manship's next effort was considered at the time the first true
American war medal and raised quite a lot of money, but also stirred almost as much of an uproar as the
Metropolitan Magazine incident.
The Kultur Medal, was the sculptor's personal statement of outrage against the Kaiser's bloody campaign in
Belgium. Advertised as the 'First American War Medal' it would be welcomed by "Patriotic Americans who have
deplored the fact that our artists, sculptors and medalists have apparently derived so little artistic impulse
from the war." The piece was created to raise funds for the War Relief and sold for the 'hardly popular
price' of ten dollars apiece. It must have touched a popular chord though, because the medals sold briskly.
However, much to Manship's confusion, the critics hated it. One stated that "it engenders hatred and places
us on the same level with the 'powers that be' in Germany... Evil does not excuse evil and in fighting this
battle for ideals we must prove that our ideals lead along a more excellent way." Another wrote in the
American Magazine of Art that the Kultur 'puts into permanent form those things which if possible should not
be remembered, but if remembered not visualized... one cannot rejoice in art which visualizes these bestial
crimes and by spending one's art on such a subject the artist desecrates the great gift with which he was
devinely endowed." Even Alice Longfellow, daughter of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote a scathing
letter to Manship, 'I wish to make a strong protest against anything so hideous being issued in the name of
Art or of America. Nothing worse could have been made by the Germans. Whereas the French and Italians have
made very beautiful medals. I trust American artists will not endorse it"
Even with these negative reactions, there were still a few voices raised in favor of the medal. "It is a
fine thing for American Art that Paul Manship, one of our most brilliant and conspicuous sculptors, should
have taken up this much needed task in America... this wonderful bit of sculptured Hate is meeting with a
large and popular sale." From another source, "It is altogether likely that the German Emperor will put a
price upon the head of Paul Manship when he sees the medal which this sculptor has lately finished."
Looking at the Kultur Medal the artists outrage is revealed through his brutal portrait of Kaiser Wilhelm II
with a rosary necklace of skulls for his Iron Cross while on his helmet he dons the laurel crown of a would-be
Ceaser. His beady eyes seem to stare, as cold as the steel of the bayonet before him as if checking the
sharpness of its edge. The legend seems to be split to the two opposing sides of the medal, "THE FOE", on the
left side and "FREE PEOPLES" on the right, the word "OF" being separated and sandwiched between the bayonet
and the spike atop the fiends helmet.
The reverse shows a brutish, almost Neanderthal like, German soldier abducting a young woman while her baby
lays dead on the ground. Looking closely at the face of the soldier we see his gaze on the woman's breasts
and the small sadistic smile as he thinks about the brutal rape he is about to commit. The image of brutal
killer is enforced by the legend "KULTUR*IN*BELGIUM*MURDER*PILLAGE" and the piece is signed above the dead
Thanks so much for sharing this except. We'll look forward to the publication of Bob's Manship book.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
QUIZ ANSWER: MANSHIP'S KULTUR IN BELGIUM MEDAL
THE BOOK BAZARRE
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