Historical Note


George Grey Barnard was an American sculptor and collector of Medieval art. Described by Harold Dickson in his introduction to "George Grey Barnard Centenary Exhibition, 1863-1963" as a "born" sculptor, Barnard was among the greatest of American sculptors and a medalist at the Salon of the Champs de Mar in Paris. Also a collector, Barnard located and arranged the pieces that eventually became "The Cloisters," now of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Born in 1863 in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, Barnard received art training at the Chicago Art Institute and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, there a student of Jules Cavelier. Unknown, Barnard was an instant sensation at the 1894 Salon with his Rodinesque piece, "I Feel Two Natures Struggling Within Me," which also belongs to the Metropolitan. In 1902 Barnard was commissioned to create statuary for the new Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg. He was producing pieces for private individuals as well, including his special patron, John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

At this time, Barnard was commissioned by Charles P. Taft to create a statue of Abraham Lincoln for Cincinnati. It was erected in 1917. Not idealistic like the Saint-Gaudens Lincoln, Barnard's was a gangly, beard-less Lincoln of the Douglass debates, and one showing great sensitivity, frailty, and emotion. This portrayal became the focus of a scandalous controversy when a copy was to be presented to Westminster Abbey. Eventually, Barnard's was transferred to Manchester, a center of working men, and Saint-Gauden's was erected in London.

While carrying out his Harrisburg commission in France, funding for the project nearly collapsed due to graft. In order to support his family, Barnard was reduced to scavenging the countryside for medieval antiques he could sell. With this he launched his avocation of collecting great medieval pieces. Barnard retained his best finds and built "The Cloisters" which he sold to Rockefeller in 1925 for $600,000. Rockefeller then gave The Cloisters to the city of New York as a park/museum. Barnard later built a second collection which was sold by his estate to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1945.

The son of a preacher, George Grey Barnard was greatly moved by the devastation of World War I, and devoted his life after that carnage to creating a monument to Peace. He designed a hundred-foot high "Rainbow Arch" which included about 400 figures. Dedicated to the Mothers of America, Barnard wished to build his arch entirely of his own funds, and nickles and dimes contributed by children. He spent many years and all his resources on the arch, yet only completed a plaster model before his health failed and he died in 1938.

George Grey Barnard married Edna Monroe of Boston in 1895. He was survived by his wife and his three children, son Monroe and daughters Vivia Barnard and Barbara McGregor.

Chronology

1863 (May 24)Born, Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.
1866Family moves West to Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa.
1882-1883Studies at Chicago Art Institute.
1884-1887Studies at École des Beaux-Arts.
1893"Struggle of Two Natures" completed in marble (Metropolitan).
1894Salon Champs de Mar, Paris, "Struggle" exhibited, Barnard elected Associé Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
1894-1895Moves to Washington Heights, New York; produces many pieces for patrons.
1895Marries Edna Monroe of Boston.
1900Salon Champs de Mars, Paris, Gold Medal.
1900-1904Professor of Sculpture, Art Students Leauge of New York; Jacob Epstein a student.
1901Salon, Buffalo, Gold Medal.
1902Receives commission to create statuary for new Pennsylvania Capitol Building, Harrisburg.
1903-1911In France at Moret-sur-Loing, completes plaster and marble for Harrisburg.
1906-1907Begins collecting medieval art in French countryside.
1910Salon Champs de Mars, Harrisburg Statuary stands aside doors to Salon.
1911 (Oct. 4)"Barnard Day" in Harrisburg.
1915-1925Creates many Lincoln statues.
1917Lincoln statue in Cincinnati erected.
1914-1918World War I, Barnard greatly moved.
1920-1937Conceives "Rainbow Arch," monument to Peace; devotes rest of life to building it.
1925Sells first cloister collection to Rockefeller.
1930Forced to vacate studio; moves to Power House to complete plaster model of "Rainbow Arch."
1933Arch plaster model exhibited at Power House.
1936Recieves National Institute of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for Sculpture.
1937Completes second medieval collection, "The Abbaye" (Philadelphia Museum of Art).
1938 (Apr. 24)Dies; buried in Harrisburg.
1938 (May 14)Exhibtion of "The Cloisters' opens.

Works Consulted

Young, Mahroni Sharp. "George Gray Barnard and the Cloisters." Apollo 189 (Nov. 1977): 332-339.

Schrader, J. L. "George Gray Barnard: The Cloisters and The Abbaye." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 37.1 (Summer 1979).

Dickson, Harold. "The Origins of 'The Cloisters.'" Art Quarterly 28.4 (1965): 253-254.