Frederick William MacMonnies (September 28, 1863 – March 22, 1937) was the best known expatriate American sculptor of the Beaux-Arts school, as successful and lauded in France as he was in the United States. He was also a highly accomplished painter and portraitist.
Three of MacMonnies' best-known sculptures are Nathan Hale, Dancing Bacchante with Infant Faun and Diana.
McKim gave the statue to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York instead. The spectacle that was made regarding this gift, a salvo in the American Culture Wars, gave MacMonnies and this sculpture a great deal of notoriety in the United States: there is an example of the Bacchante in the permanent collections of most of the large museums in the United States and France. A copy (illustration, above right) has now taken its place in its intended original location in the Boston Public Library.
In 1880 young MacMonnies was taken on by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and soon promoted to studio assistant. This began a lifelong friendship with the acclaimed sculptor. MacMonnies studied at nights at the National Academy of Design and The Art Students League of New York. In 1884 he left for Paris to study sculpture at the École des Beaux-Arts, twice winning the highest award given to foreign students.
In 1888 MacMonnies opened a studio in Paris and began to create some of his most famous sculptures, which he submitted annually to the Paris Salon. In his atelier he mentored such notable artists as Janet Scudder and Mary Foote. He married a fellow artist, Mary Louise Fairchild. (They were divorced in 1908, and he married his former student Alice Jones in 1910.)
In 1889 an Honorable Mention at the Paris Salon for his Diana led to important American commissions, including the Nathan Hale memorial and the decorative Pan fountain sculpture for Rohallion, the New Jersey mansion of banker Edward Adams, who opened for him a social circle of art-appreciating New Yorkers. Until the outbreak of World War I, when he gave up his grand household establishment in Paris, MacMonnies travelled annually to the United States to see dealers and patrons, returning to Paris to work on his commissions.
In 1891 he was awarded the commission for the centerpiece of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago: the sculpture of Columbia in her Grand Barge of State, in the vast central fountain of the Court of Honor, was truly the iconic figure at the heart of the American Beaux-Arts movement. This large decorative fountain piece became the focal point at the Exposition and established MacMonnies as one of the important sculptors of the time.
At the Paris Salon, he was awarded the first Gold Medal ever given to an American sculptor. Elected to the rank of Chevalier in the French Légion d'honneur in 1896 MacMonnies was awarded grand prize at the Paris Exposition of 1900. This was a decade of enormous productivity and personal satisfaction. A second career as a painter got a good public start in 1901, when he received an honorable mention at the Paris Salon for the first painting he entered.
Returning to New York after 1915, he continued his stylish career. He executed the colossal group, Civic Virtue, at the City Hall Fountains in New York (1919). It was the subject of considerable controversy (New International Encyclopedia).
When a medal was commissioned to celebrate Charles Lindbergh's solo Trans-Atlantic flight in 1931, MacMonnies was the obvious choice.
Frederick William MacMonnies died of pneumonia in 1937, aged 73.