No. 3 Lorado Taft
Lorado Taft has been called “the Vasari of American sculpture,” a very happy designation.He is, rolled into one, a sculptor himself, a biographer and genial critic of his fellow sculptors, and a man of the world, at home and popular in the art and cultural circles of Chicago. He is a good art politician and social mixer, as well as being facile and felicitous in his sculptural expression. He has had the knack to appeal to the populace as both sculptor and man, and for a long period in Chicago, before age began slowing him up, the terms “Taft” and “sculpture” were practically synonymous in the imagination of the “man in the street.”
“The Fountain of Time” on the Midway Plaisance (1922) and “The Fountain of the Great Lakes” (1913) on the south end of the Art Institute are already integral factors in the symbolism of Chicago. One day I heard a bus driver tell a Century of Progress visitor that “The Fountain of Time” was a relic of the Columbian Exposition. It might have been. It belongs to an epoch that was being thrust determinedly into the past by the angular sculpture that was fitted into the severe startling, uncompromising architecture of the 1933-34 World’s Fair.
Likewise, “The Fountain of the Great Lakes” has no kinship with Mestrovic’s “Indian Horsemen,” south of it in Grant Park, and in sight.
Mr. Taft’s material career has been one of enviable prosperity. Though his fountain on the Midway Plaisance materialized a full generation “posthumous” to the Columbian Exposition, he participated in that immortal festival — rather modestly, two groups in the horticultural building, “The Sleep of the Flowers” and “The Awakening of Flowers.” He may have got his sentimental mysticism from Bonnassieux of Lyons, one of his instructors in his student days at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. From another instructor, Dumont, who contributed many heroic pieces to the decoration of the Paris of Napoleon III, he may have imbibed big ideas for adorning Chicago.
Mr. Taft, in his Scammon lectures at the Art Institute of Chicago, published in book form in 1921 as “Modern Tendencies in Sculpture,” poked satiric fun at the Rodin “cult,” though he acknowledged rapt admiration for some phases of Rodin, whom he imitated, to a degree, in “The Solitude of the Soul,” his magnum opus among museum pieces, which the Art Institute of Chicago owns. He had no use, however, for Matisse, “notorious painter” — “as good a sculptor as he is a painter” — and he doubted the very existence of Archipenko and Brancual. “The information obtainable in regard to their shadowy personalities is so slight and contradictory that some have been tempted to believe them fictitious—a syndicate or possibly a ‘Mr. Hyde’ manifestation of some perfectly reputable artist.”
However, when it came to the Americans, Mr. Taft was the genial “Vasari.” He wrote a formidable “History of American Sculpture.”
“’Untrustworthy,’ I have recently learned,” he says pleasantly in his book of Scammon lectures, “because of the writer’s uncritical attitude toward his colleagues. Perhaps it is a disadvantage to feel sympathetic toward one’s ‘kind’.”
It was that sympathy inborn in Mr. Taft’s character that made him a genial czar during his long reign in the sculptural affairs of Chicago. He has been personally liked by rivals who fought him hardest.
Mr. Taft was born April 29, 1850, at Elmwood, Ill. His father was Don Carlos Taft, a professor in the state university at Champaign. The sculptor established himself in Chicago in 1885, after his student days in Paris. He became instructor in modeling in the school of the youthful Art Institute of Chicago.
In addition to his numerous works in Chicago, Mr. Taft has done the “Columbus Memorial Fountain” at Washington; “Blackhawk” at Oregon, Ill.; “Washington” at Seattle, Wash.; fountains at Bloomington, Ill.; Paducah, Ky.; and Denver, a military group for Jackson, Mich., and other spectacular memorials.