A William Henry Rinehart Leander comes to the surface

Editorial Staff Art

Both American and European sculptors of the nineteenth century found in classical mythology an abundance of subjects, which, together with the perennial demand for portrait busts, kept an army of artisans headquartered in Florence and Rome well occupied. The general interest in antiquity was stimulated by numerous excavations throughout the classical world, and the resulting publications fostered a demand among those on the Grand Tour for souvenirs of taste and fashion.

William Henry Rinehart was among the considerable group of American artists—both sculptors and painters—who took up residence in Italy, perhaps initially for additional training and exposure to the world of classical antiquity, but ultimately because it was the ideal place to get commissions from both American and European tourists.

Leander by William Henry Rinehart (1825–1874), modeled c. 1858–1859, carved 1874. Marble; height 43 ½ inches. Private collection; photograph by Eric Baumgarter.

Rinehart was born in 1825 on a farm near Union Bridge, in Frederick County (now Carroll County), Maryland. Although as he matured he displayed no interest in the normal routine of farm life, he showed a genuine curiosity for the activities related to a marble quarry that was opened on the family farm. There, he learned the techniques of sawing, polishing, and lettering marble, in conjunction with the fabrication of tombstones, mantelpieces, and exterior architectural elements. At the age of nineteen he moved to Baltimore, where he apprenticed initially in the marble yards of Baughman and Bevan, and enrolled in evening classes at the Maryland Institute of the Mechanic Arts. He eventually met the railroad entrepreneur and legendary art collector William T. Walters, who, in 1855, when Rinehart was thirty, likely contributed money toward a trip to Florence for the budding sculptor.1 In 1857 Rinehart returned to Baltimore, no longer a mere stonecutter but now a full-fledged sculptor, and established a studio in Carroll Hall, at Baltimore and Calvert Streets. But the following year he closed up shop and moved to Rome, where he was to live and work until his death in 1874.

Among the first subjects Rinehart tackled once he had settled in Rome was Leander, one of the duet of Hero and Leander that became a popular subject among sculptors, painters, and writers in the nineteenth century. The pair’s tragic love story is ultimately derived from Ovid’s Heroides. A priestess of Venus, Hero met Leander at a celebration of Venus and Adonis at Sestos, on the Thracian coast. H. Nichols B. Clark wrote of the affair in his exemplary catalogue of the James Ricau collection of American marble sculptures at the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia:

They immediately fell in love, but her position as a priestess and her parents’ opposition dictated against their ardor. Geography also played a role since Hero lived on the west, or European, side of the Hellespont (now the Dardanelles), and Leander inhabited the eastern, or Adriatic, side in Abydos. None of these impediments deterred them, how- ever, and each evening Leander would swim across the Hellespont to be with his beloved, guided by the light of the lamp she provided. One stormy winter night, the wind blew out the light, and Leander lost his way and drowned. Overcome with grief, Hero threw herself into the sea to join her lover in death.2

The resurgence of interest in the subject in the nineteenth century may be attributable, at least in part, to Lord Byron’s much-publicized effort in 1810 to duplicate Leander’s swim, which he subsequently memorialized in The Bride of Abydos: A Turkish Tale in 1813. John Keats, Thomas Hood, Thomas Moore, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, all wrote poems on the subject, and J. M. W. Turner pictorialized the story in about 1837. A group sculpture of Hero and Leander by the German artist Charles Steinhauser (1815–1879) was exhibited in America as early as 1848 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; the first American to give form to the subject was the sculptor William Wetmore Story (1819–1895), who created a marble in about 1856. As Clark has written, “favorable reception” of Story’s “Hero in Search of Leander” by Nathaniel Hawthorne and others may have inspired Rinehart to undertake his version, whose popularity may have contributed to the eclipse of Story’s effort.3

Detail of Leander. Private collection; Baumgarter photograph.

Although Rinehart did not move ahead with the fabrication of a marble Leander until the late 1850s, several drawings of the subject in the archives of the Peabody Institute of Baltimore4 are dated “ca. 1855.” By October 16, 1860, Rinehart had turned over the clay or plaster model for Leander to the pointer Felice Passavanti, who was to translate it into marble, but no evidence exists that it was being made to fulfill a commission. That piece sold in 1865 to Edward Cabot Clark (1811–1882), a New York businessman and lawyer who was one of the founders of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. Over the years Rinehart recorded, first in his account book for the period 1858 to 1862, and then in his “Libro Maestro” from 1861 to 1874 (both manuscripts in the Peabody Institute Library) sales of specific works and payments received, both for specially commissioned pieces and otherwise, as well as payments to the carvers who translated his models into marble, “finishers,” and pedestal makers. The Clark purchase was dutifully listed on page 113 in the Libro in 1865. That Leander is not mentioned by William Sener Rusk in his 1939 biography of Rinehart, but nine years later Marvin Chauncey Ross and Anna Wells Rutledge listed it in the checklist in their Rinehart monograph as one of the two marbles they had identified, although it was then“unlocated.”5 The Clark piece, which is signed but not dated, was acquired by the Newark Museum in 1962 from the dealer Andrew John, Inc., of New York.

The second marble catalogued by Ross and Rutledge is likely the one recorded in the “Libro” on September 10, 1870, for payment to a “finisher” (p. 62), and once again in the obituary of the artist that appeared in the Baltimore Weekly Sun of October 31, 1874, where it was said to be in the possession of “Mr. Riggs of Baltimore,” whom Ross and Rutledge identified as Lawrason Riggs (1814–1884). Upon Riggs’s death, the piece descended to his son Clinton L. Riggs (1865–1938), in whose possession it remained until it passed to his daughter Marian (Mrs. Thomas Henry Gaither) Baillière, of Baltimore, from whom it was purchased by James Ricau in 1962. It was eventually acquired by the Chrysler Museum as part of the Ricau Collection in 1986. Although the vast majority of the marble works turned out by the various ateliers in Florence and Rome were signed, and frequently dated, the Ricau/Chrysler Leander is curiously unsigned and undated, although its authenticity has never been questioned.

In discussing Leander, Ross and Rutledge assumed that a marble of the subject listed in a studio inventory made after the artist’s death in Rome on October 28, 1874 (where it was valued modestly at £30), and that appeared in a sale of the remaining contents of his studio in 1875, was the one owned successively by three generations of the Riggs family, an assumption repeated by Clark.6 But that is not possible, as the Riggs version was already in Baltimore by the time the Baltimore Weekly Sun published the artist’s obituary on October 31, 1874, just three days after the artist’s death, and amply before the 1875 estate sale in Rome.

Hero by Rinehart, modeled c. 1858–1859, carved 1874. Inscribed “Wm. H. Rinehart. Sculpt.; Rome. 1874” on base. Marble, height 34 inches. Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia, gift of James H. Ricau and museum purchase.

A “new“ and apparently unpublished Leander signed and dated 1874 has recently been discovered. It is not recorded in the “Libro Maestro“, but is certainly the piece valued at £30 in the post-mortem inventory of the artist’s studio and that then appeared in the auction by Elenco of Rome of the contents of Rinehart’s studio on March 16 and 17, 1875. Indeed, a Leandro is listed as lot number 13—“Statua come sopra rapp. Leandro”—in the sale catalogue. It was estimated to bring 900 lire, but sold for 1,250 lire. Certainly not coincidentally, the preceding lot, number 12, was the companion Hero, “Statua giacent marmot statuario rapp. Ero [or Hero] opera del defonto con base dis rosso di Levante.” The two sculptures that appeared in the 1875 auction are thus probably the Leander of 1874 and the last Hero that Rinehart made, also dated 1874 and now in the Ricau Collection at the Chrysler Museum. Writing in the catalogue of the collection, Clark assumed that the Ricau Hero was the one in the 1875 sale. Rinehart had earlier executed eight Heroes, the first in 1866, three in 1867, two in 1868, one in 1869, and one in 1871, all of which are recorded in Rinehart’s records except the 1871 and 1874 versions.

Because of the iconographical relationship of Hero and Leander, Rinehart may originally have desired to sell the 1874 duet as a pair. It appears that only Edward Clark owned both, he having ordered a Hero in 1866, the year after he acquired his Leander. But the artist’s death in 1874 and their subsequent sale in separate lots at auction appear to have conspired against the two remaining together.

Thus, the Newark, Ricau/Chrysler, and recently discovered 1874 sculptures account for the three recorded examples of Leander in marble. Additionally, Ross and Rutledge mention a “sculptor’s original” of the subject,7 which was probably one of the many “Casts or Models of which I may die possessed”8 that Rinehart’s will provided be donated “to any Institute in Maryland in which they can be made useful for instruction.” Rinehart’s executors, who were William T. Walters and Benjamin F. Newcomer, chose the Peabody Institute, which still owns a considerable array of Rinehart’s models. But a recent inquiry elicited a response that the “sculptor’s model” of Leander referred to by Ross and Rutledge is not among them, nor is it known otherwise.

The census of Rinehart’s Leanders is thus now complicated only by a reference in Henry T. Tuckerman’s 1867 Book of the Artists, where he reported that there was a Leander in the collection of Mrs. Henry, who was also a Baltimorean.8 But two of the versions of Leander were not executed until 1870 and 1874, and it is unlikely that she could have owned the one bought by Clark in 1865, unless she had owned it sometime between 1860 and 1865, during which time Tuckerman saw it, and then returned it to the artist, who resold it to Clark.

In Rome, Rinehart was quick to absorb lessons from the numerous examples of excavated antique sculpture in the Eternal City. His early Leander, conceived by about 1855, was strongly influenced by a Roman copy after a Greek bronze possibly by Praxiteles, known as the Belvedere Hermes, which was bought by Pope Paul III in 1543, after it was found around 1540 in a gar- den near the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome. Rinehart’s selection of the Hermes as his prototype may have been based on the fact that mythology tells us that Hermes was said to have guided the souls of the dead to the underworld, death thus being a common concern of the two figures. Rinehart adopted the essential form of the antique Hermes, moving the proper right leg farther to the right and eliminated the abstracted tree at the left of the composition, substituting for it a cascading drapery that not only served to provide additional support for the figure but also to endow it with the greater modesty demanded by a Victorian ethic.

The Parting of Hero and Leander by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), c. 1837. Oil on canvas, 57 ½ by 93 inches. National Gallery of Art, London.

Artistically, Rinehart’s Leander has repeatedly been described as one of the greatest male nudes within the extensive production of the American neoclassical sculptors. It was applauded in an article in the Baltimore Exchange that was reprinted in the December 1860 issue of Cosmopolitan Art Journal:

‘Leander’ . . . will greatly interest all lovers of art, and excite a very earnest amount of  admiration. . . . There is about the work none of that unequal execution or those blemishes of awkwardness in the management of the limbs which are generally the ear-marks of young artists, but throughout a rigid simplicity and an adherence to the best rules of taste, which show that Mr. Ridehart’s [sic] progress has been made upon a sure basis.9

More recently, William H. Gerdts, who has, more than any other art historian, chronicled the range and depth of American work in this genre, has repeatedly expressed admiration for Leander, calling it “one of the finest” examples of neoclassical “ideal male figures,”10 the artist’s “finest male figure, and perhaps the finest by any of our neoclassicists,”11 and “one of the best male figures of this school of sculpture.”12 Indeed, qualitatively, Rinehart’s sculpture in general is both of outstanding design and of excellent workmanship, his “ideal” works being rivaled among the army of American neoclassical marble sculptors only by the work of Hiram Powers.

1 The exact source of the funding for Rinehart’s initial trip to Italy is uncertain. William Sener Rusk writes in William Henry Rinehart Sculptor (Norman T. A. Munder, Baltimore, 1939), p. 14: “In 1855 . . . with his savings and five hundred dollars from his father, or with funds provided by a group of men which included Hugh Sisson and James Forbes, or with funds for a stay of several years provided by Mr. W. T. Walters, he sailed for Italy.” 2 H. Nichols B. Clark, A Marble Quarry: The James Ricau Collection of Sculpture at the Chrysler Museum of Art (Hudson Hills Press, in association with the Chrysler Museum of Art, New York, 1997), p. 191. 3 Ibid., p.191. 4 Ibid., p. 196 figs. 85 and 86. 5 Marvin Chauncey Ross and Anna Wells Rutledge, A Catalogue of the Work of William Henry Rinehart, Maryland Sculptor, 1825–1874 (Trustees of the Peabody Institute and the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, 1948), p. 28. 6 Clark, A Marble Quarry, p. 194 7 Ross and Rutledge, A Catalogue of the Work of William Henry Rinehart, p. 28. 8 Rusk, William Henry Rinehart Sculptor, p. 120. 9 “Sculptors and Sculpture,” Cosmopolitan Art Journal, vol. 4, no. 4 (December 1860), pp. 181–182. 10 William H. Gerdts, “The Collection of James H. Ricau,” The Magazine ANTIQUES, vol. 86 (September 1964), p. 298. 11 William H. Gerdts, American Neo-Classic Sculpture; The Marble Resurrection (Viking Press, New York, 1973), p. 57. 12 William H. Gerdts, “Sculpture by 19th Century American Artists in the Collection of the Newark Museum,” The Museum, vol. 4 (Fall 1962), p. 11.