Bob Mueller submitted this article on the works of artist Paul Manship. Thanks!
From Medals to Monuments
Paul Manship's Diana and Flight of Europa
First and foremost, I would like to dedicate this submission to the memory of Dick Johnson and Joe Levine, whose recent passing within two months of each other has been heavy on my heart and left a palpable void in the medallic art community.
The current exhibition "Paul Manship: Ancient Made Modern" at the Wadsworth
Atheneum focusing on his artistic development is the impetus for this brief essay,
since, as pointed out in the last issue of The E-Sylum, his medallic work was basically overlooked.
In fact, two of Manship's most popular sculptures can trace their beginnings to
"medallic" works by the artist. Both of these found their beginnings in what the late
Sam Pennington coined as "medallic ashtrays." The first, Diana, from the pair Diana
and Actaeon was cast in several sizes from moderate to monumental. Though only
one half of the pair, the origin of this goddess can be traced to the earliest of
Manship's bronze plates executed in 1915.
The National Sculpture Society commissioned the artist to create a small bronze
ashtray to be presented to its lay members, which numbered 145 at the time.
Manship's choice of the goddess Diana resulted in a delightful gem in that became
the first of a series illustrating mythological scenes and astrological signs.
Observing the Diana Ashtray, the viewer is initially taken by the great illusion of
motion and speed. Diana with her bow literally flies through the surrounding flora,
her swiftness easily matches the speeding hound beneath her. The foliage gives way
to the envelope created before her while the plants behind are drawn in her wake.
Her figure is freely modeled and extremely fluid in form, her long hair flowing in
serpentine waves on both sides of her head. The style of the figure itself is
reminiscent of early Minoan frescoes and everything about it insinuates action.
The hound in comparison exudes pure physical power. Its musculature is clearly
defined and we can feel the strength and lightning speed of this magnificent beast as
he adoringly races at his mistress' side. Both are encircled, but not completely
contained within a raised beaded border forming a divine mystical nimbus; lending
the illusion that they might at any moment leap from the confines of the bowl. This
border is then contained within a second zig-zag motif just inside the rim, adding
even more energy to this dynamic composition.
Around the outside rim of the bowl runs the inscription, the lettering of which is
well designed and quite creative. It reads "FROM•THE•NATIONAL•SCULPTURE•
SOCIETY•TO•ITS•LAY•MEMBERS• MCMXV." The piece is signed around the base
PAUL MANSHIP•SC•©, and is also signed inside the bowl •PHM• making this only
one of two works to be signed on both sides by the artist. Each example was cire
perdu cast by Roman Bronze Works as indicated by a seal stamped into the base of
In 1921 the figure of Diana made its more formal debut, though Actaeon would not
be realized until two years later. Manship was an avid wine aficionado and the
enactment of the Volsted Act in October 1919 precipitated a move to Europe in
1921 that would last three and a half years. A short time in England was followed by
a move to Paris and it was here that the paired works came to fruition.
The relocation to Paris energized the sculptor as he wrote to his friend Barry
Faulkner: "Paris is the center of the world—and while I am not in the center of the
whirlpool I feel the motion of it;" and later "My coming here is no mistake—I feel
inspired to go ahead—and I hope to see my own ideas more clearly and to carry out
my work in better form." 1
John Manship wrote in his father's biography: "the most important pieces that
Manship did during these Paris years were the Diana and Actaeon.... These pieces
represent Manship at his most characteristic, with their use of mythological
subjects, nude figures in motion, stylized animals and plants, and highly decorative
patterns in which the voids are as calculated for effect as the solids. These two
pieces have always been—along with Dancer and Gazelles—Manship's most popular
The other work to find its genesis in the humble and utilitarian form of an ashtray
was The Flight of Europa of 1925.
Isabel Stewart Gardner, the grande dame of Boston society, owned Titian's 1562
masterpiece, Rape of Europa, which inspired the sculptor to create the Flight of
Europa Ashtray in 1917 for her. The sculptor met the heiress through a mutual
friend, Denman Ross, and presented her with one of his Jeanne d'Arc medals as a
gift. In response she wrote an effusive letter to the artist: "I carry it around with me
everywhere, my ‘paperweight.' Looking at it and feeling it give me so much pleasure.
Oh it is too beautiful! Jeanne d'Arc is one I love and this is the best of her I know... I
do not need a reminder of you, whom I have so near my heart. May the future bring
us oftener together." 3
The 5 1/2 inch dish reveals the scene of Europa being abducted by Zeus in the form of
a bull and carried off over the sea to carry out his lustful intentions with her. As in
the Diana Ashtray, this work conveys a dynamic sense of motion, as well as one of
unveiled sensuality, as well as deriving its stylistic inspiration from early Minoan
frescoes. Europa, barely able to keep astride the powerfully muscled bull clings to an
ear, her right leg trailing behind as she is jounced atop the racing animal. Her
diaphanous garment blows away in the wind of their flight, revealing her ample
feminine charms. The bull, exudes power and masculinity, covered in thick muscle,
its penile sheath quite obvious, it runs completely airborne in full stride hurrying to
consummate the lustful act. Beneath the bull swim four dolphins in escort, much as
they do when confronting a ship. Finally the group is surrounded by a severe wave
motif border which runs around the flat perimeter of the dish that gives the
impression of wind moving at great speed over the water.
Manship wrote to Mrs. Gardner on Christmas Day that year:
"Mrs. Manship joins me in wishing you the very best of Merry Christmases. And are
sending you this little tray as a trifling remembrance of your many kindnesses to
us... Mr. Titian has proved that Europa & the Bull is a great subject. This relief is to
try out the subject for composition. How do you think it will work out in the round, I
want to try it." 4
It appears clear that Manship's intent was to work this ‘sketch' into something more
definitive, and it would not be until 1925 that he realized this thought with his Flight
of Europa. The work is a successful composition but fails to capture the sensual
energy and excitement of the abduction as does the earlier bronze dish. In contrast
to Diana, Europa appears a bit campy, as she listlessly sits atop the bull with Eros
whispering in her ear. The leaping dolphins are paired here and emphasize motion,
as well as the fully extended bull, adding to the sense of speed and excitement. In his
catalogue raisonné on the artist, Edwin Murtha included this notation for the work:
"Manship's Flight of Europa is very likely Minoan in inspiration, yet his strong
personal style has produced a wholly original work. it is interesting to compare his
version of the subject with those of his contemporaries [Antoine] Bourdelle and
[Carl] Milles. Bourdelle's little sketch is a work of considerable power despite its
size. Milles bronze Europa and the Bull vibrates with drama and nervous movement,
the very opposite of the understated mood of Manship's piece. The story of Europa
and the Bull, something of an impious parody on the weaknesses of the gods,
receives in Manship's version the light touch and restrained humor it needs." 5
The Europa Ashtray was a piece that saw several incarnations throughout Manship's
career. By 1919, while retaining the same basic composition, the piece had already
evolved into something resembling its final state. The most noticeable changes are
the absence of the dolphin on the far right, the strengthened tail flukes of the
remaining three and the forward thrusting horns of the bull, which now break free
into the encircling wave motif. The dish still retains some archaic qualities but the
modeling is less stylized and more naturalistic, lending a softer and more sensual
appearance. In 1946, Flight of Europa achieved its final state with slight refinements
in the modeling and the inclusion of an additional fold in the drapery over Europa's
There are themes that run through Manship's corpus of work—especially Pegasus—who appears on a number of medals, large reliefs and sketches, though none form the inspirational basis for a major work. Each is an expression unto itself. The two works examined here literally "rise from the ashes" to give us a look into Manship's creative process; ascending from humble beginnings to stand today as an enduring testament to his genius.
1 Manship, John; Paul Manship; Abbeville Press, NY, 1989 p. 97
2 Ibid; p. 101
3 Ibid; p. 79
4 Hancock, Walker, Paul Manship, Fenway Court, vol. 1 no 1, Boston, 1966
5 Murtha Edwin, Paul Manship; Macmillan Company, NY, 1957 p. 164
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
PAUL MANSHIP EXHIBIT
Wayne Homren, Editor
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