AN ARCHITECT’S MEMORIAL

P1010440The other day, I walked by the memorial to Richard Morris Hunt that stands on Fifth Avenue, next to Central Park. Not many architects get to have a memorial. The only other one I have seen commemorates Andrea Palladio, a lifesize statue in a small square in Vicenza. Hunt’s is more elaborate:  a bronze bust of the architect is set in an exedra that includes two female statues, one representing Architecture the other Art. The sculptor was Daniel Chester French; the architect, Bruce Price. The inscription reads: “To Richard Morris Hunt, October 31, 1828 – July 31, 1895, in recognition  of his services to the cause of art  in America, this memorial was erected 1898 by the art societies of New York.” The societies are listed: the Century Association, to which Hunt belonged; the Municipal Arts Society, which he founded; the Metropolitan Museum, which he had designed; the Artists Artisans of New York; the Architectural League, which he helped found; the National Sculpture Society; the  National Academy of Design; the Society of  American Artists; the American Institute of Architects, of which he was a founder and the third president; the American Watercolor Society; and the Society of Beaux Arts Architects—Hunt was the first American to attend the Ecole, and founded effectively the first school of architecture in the US. Hunt designed some of the grandest of the grand houses of the Gilded Age, in New York, Newport, and Asheville, NC. But his greatest achievement, for which his friends honored him with this memorial, was to raise the social standing of the architect from that of a glorified carpenter to a fine arts professional. Later practitioners such as Charles McKim and Ralph Adams Cram  were better architects, but they all stood on Hunt’s shoulders.

 

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