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By Charles Cary Rumsey
Gift of Charles C. Rumsey Jr. and Mary A. Rumsey
Bronze. h. 5' 10 3/4"; w. 26 1/2; d. 55
Stamped on side of the base, left rear corner: CIRE PERDU / C. VALSUANI / PARIS
Date: 1910; Cast executed late 1920s in Provenance
History of the statue: Beneath illustrations
Vermont marble Ionic columns
It was the last of the great Expositions, and it commemorated the opening of the Pan-American Canal. The plan involved a large and elaborate scheme of temporary architecture, fountains, gardens, and sculpture which extolled American historical, scientific, and technological progress. There were pavilions dedicated to new technologies and sculptural groups that allegorized everything from energy, to the Darwinian concept of the survival of the fittest.
In fact, the Exposition should be understood not only as an enormously ambitious
attempt to exhibit the advanced art of the time, but also as a subtle form of political
theatre, a vast stage upon which was propagated a unique myth of American history.
Part of this myth consisted of the famous and much romanticized figures of the remote
past. Along with the "Cortez" of Charles Nichaus, Rumsey's "Pizarro"
flanked the Tower of Jewels, a structure fronting the Courtyard of the Universe.
A sculptural ensemble heroizing the legendary conquerors of America must have been
particularly charged at a moment when the nation felt itself to be on the threshold
of a new historical period.
As a temporary sculpture, it is likely that the colossal. nineteen-foot-high Pizarro for the Exposition was executed by trained workmen under the direction of a master sculptor rather than the artist himself - the normal procedure in such undertakings. It is to the model, therefore, that we must turn for an idea of the artist's intentions.
In the "Pizarro" Rumsey reconciled two competing demands. The first was for a generally harmonious composition such as would have been expected in an equestrian portrait. The second was for historical accuracy ó truthfulness to the record regarding Pizarro's actual appearance. Fremiet, like other historical realists of the Beaux-Arts tradition, insisted on the visual accuracy of historical imagery and his former pupil was to do the same.
Details of the armor in the model are drawn from careful study of Pizarro's armor,
presented in Madrid. In his research Rumsey also discovered that the preferred horse
of the conquistadors was a short, stocky, strong pony completely unlike the more
slimly proportioned and elegant thoroughbreds which had been his previous models.
me proportion of horse to rider in the Pizarro is, therefore, quite different from
that of the more idealized equestrian statues of the period.
Rumsey's solution to the scheme of the statue and the interrelation of horse and rider seems to have been quite novel. In one of the rare documents of Rumsey's career, a short essay written by his assistant Edmondo Quattrocchi, the model is described as:
... strangely different to the teachings of composition, as for instance the legs perfectly straight, resting on the stirrups, the hands instead of being twisted were absolutely straight in line with the fore-arms.
Since the work was to have an architectural setting, it required an appropriate treatment of decorative data. As Quattrocchi described the model:
The armor cast deep shadows in places, while other parts were handled with an exaggerated fondness of detail forming a beautiful contrast with the exaggerations of the bigness of the horse. This distribution of detail, although roughly executed, possessed the contrasting keys of color which gave the composition a tremendous scale and also made you feel that the equestrian could adequately be placed against a background of richly ornamented architecture.
"Color," as used here, was a term that both sculptors and architects employed to describe the distribution of light and shade over a surface. The use of detail to give a sense of scale to a composition was one of the rules of Beaux-Arts style and was followed by sculptors and architects alike.
Rumsey's statue was well-received and he was awarded a bronze medal. A number of different versions were made later, among them the unique statue in bronze at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.