The work of the Victorian sculptor, Harry Bates is usually associated with the 1880s and '90s artistic movement lnowjn as the New Sculpture. This movement, which directly followed neoclassicism chronologically, sought to represent a greater degree of naturalism and wider range of subject matter. Like his contemporaries, Bates worked within the tradition of naturalistic figuration, and attempted to initiate a new type of encounter between the viewer and the sculpture (Getsy, 76).
Bates' career began in 1850 as an architectural clerk, which eventually led him into architectural and ornamental carving. These early experiences in the applied arts provided the young artist with a strong understanding of historical architectural sculpture and the classical emphasis upon the decorative. This early training significantly influenced the rest of his career, which, according to David Getsy, "explored the overlap between sculpture and objects of design" (Getsy 76). Bates is most remembered for his masterful skill in the composition and sculpting of relief sculpture, in which he created his most technically and aesthetically refined work.
(Left) Hounds in Leash. (right) Mors Janua Vitae. [Click on thumbnails for larger images.]
Although the majority of Bates' life work is relief sculpture, some of his most outstanding works are figures in the round, such as his 1889 Hounds in Leash and 1899 Mors Janua Vitae. But even these freestanding sculptures allude to Bates' early training and alliance with relief work. Hounds in Leash, his first attempt at statuary, depicts two hunting dogs bounding forward halted in mid-air by the leashes held by their master. Bates has played close attention to the musculature of both the dogs and human figure, creating a great deal of tension in the muscles, the leashes of the dogs, and the energy exerted from the dogs' forward motion and their master's powerful stationary stance. It bears resemblance in its stylistic treatment of the material, musculature and push-pull tension to Ruby Levick's Wrestlers. Hounds in Leash though is essentially a relief composition translated to a three dimensional representation (Wikipedia). This work is constructed in a shallow plane rather than a full three dimensional view.
It was not until the Pandora of 1890 that Bates realized his full potential. Experimenting with multiple mediums and with the integration of fine and decorative art, he produced a fully three-dimensional freestanding nude. Bates has sculpted Pandora crouching down on one knee. Her right leg is slightly raised, her back and neck are slightly curved and her enveloping arms focus the composition inwards (Getsy 81). She wears no clothing or jewelry, and the monochrome smooth rendering of her skin is strongly contrasted to the object she clasps in her hands. The box, which she gazes at, is her sole attribute and the main focus of the work and oof the legend of Pandora. The ivory and gilt bronze box immediately draws the viewer's attention to iys highly decorative relief scenes, which depict the creation of Pandora
The inclusion of Pandora's Box, which marks Bates' integration of the decorative arts with sculpture, draws the emphasis away from the female nude, the central figure, by its highly decorative scenes. The viewer's attention is transferred from the figure of Pandora to the box she holds. The main interaction of the viewer with the sculpture is not between him and the life-like figure but rather with the object the figure holds. In this way, Bates not only integrated the decorative into his work but managed to make it the main focus.
1 Differing from his other works by its uncharacteristically smooth and unvaried surface, Pandora markedly differs from his previous work Hounds in Leash. What other ways do these two works differ?
2 Getsy claims, "The dynamic relationship between the statue and object characterizes Bates' sculpture as whole." How so?
3. Is Bates' Pandora more in line with new sculpture or neoclassicism?
Getsy, David J.. Art History 28.1 (Feb. 2005): 74-95.
"Harry Bates (sculptor)." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 21 Dec 2006, 20:21 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Viewed 4 April 2007.
Last modified 12 April 2007