“Clove of Garlic Crushed and Boiled”: Paul Manship’s patinas

Dorothy Cheng


Paul Manship (1885-1966) was an American sculptor whose influential work in the early decades of the 20th century was a major precursor to Art Deco in the United States. Known for monumental works like the Prometheus Fountain at Rockefeller Center, he worked prolifically in bronze, collaborating with American and European art foundries during a period of technical proficiency in, and great commercial enthusiasm for, the creation of cast bronzes. The names of many of these foundries, such as Roman Bronze Works, Rudier, and Valsuani, also appear often in the catalogs of other prominent sculptors of his time. Manship took full advantage of every step of the casting process and of the wide-ranging expertise available to him at these foundries to refine his artistic vision. The majority of Smithsonian American Art Museum’s large and varied collection of Manship sculptures and medals arrived straight from the artist, never having passed through the hands of other collectors. During a 12-month Lunder Fellowship, the presenter carried out technical studies of sixteen Paul Manship cast bronze sculptures in the SAAM collection. The production dates of the selected sculptures spanned from 1912 to the 1950s, originating from at least five different foundries from Italy, France, and the United States. All sixteen sculptures were bequests from the artist, entering the collection in the mid-1960s directly from his studio. Twelve had never undergone documented treatment at SAAM, providing an opportunity to study objects that align closely with the artist’s original intentions. Patina recipes jotted down and saved by Manship in his personal archives were tested on metal coupons of three different copper alloys representing the range of metal types used in the production of the selected sculptures. Producing this array of patina samples, though by no means representative of the surfaces of all sixteen, provided further insight into a metalworking process in which Manship held particular interest and was often hands-on involved. These coupons remain in the SAAM Objects Conservation lab as a reference collection, to aid in future analysis and treatment of Manship bronzes and medals. This presentation will also cover an overview of the methods used to evaluate the selected sculptures, which may be a useful template for systematically examining cast bronzes in other collections, and will also share noteworthy discoveries made during the study. X-radiography, UV-induced visible luminescence, reflected UV imaging, and x-ray fluorescence spectrometry were conducted to document structural and surface features. Munsell color charts were used to refine terminology for the documentation and description of patina color. Though this study centered selections from one artist’s oeuvre, the five-decade, international span of his work allowed a closer look at many of the historical techniques that underpin the living tradition of European and American bronze casting craftmanship.    

2022 | Los Angeles | Volume 29