The Work of Walter Allward

ARTHUR E McFARLANE November 1 1909

The Work of Walter Allward

ARTHUR E McFARLANE November 1 1909

The Work of Walter Allward



WHEN a modern sculptor has an inspiration, it is first expressed in what the French call a maquette, one of those small figurines of dark green wax, wherein a few swift and nervous finger pressures may catch and hold a complete artistic conception. If the sculptor makes up his mind to carry

it further, with his maquette as his rough sketch, he makes another— this time a highly finished little figure—in wax or clay. And, if the design is one that is to be “passed upon” as a single statue, from his second figure he makes still another, one-third or one-half of life size.

If, however, the small finished

figure is to be one of several in a monumental group, they are one after the other finished “in little,” and cast in plaster of Paris ; then with a completed model of the monument, the whole is put together. (In the illustrations accompanying this article, such completed group models may be seen in the case of the Baldwin-Lafontaine exedra, the South African Monument and the Bell Memorial.) Only after weeks and months of this work “in little” does the sculptor’s actual work begin. For each figure that is to be finished in life size or larger, he has to build up a most elaborate frame of iron or wood, strong enough to hold the weight of clay, and capable, too, if possible, of being swung about upon its axis. Then, if the baffling task of procuring suitable life models has been partially successful. the sculptor can take his clay and commence his work “in big." This is again a task of months: St. Gaudens believed that for every figure he should be allowed at least a year. And the completion of the clay figure means only that the artist must now go to work 28

to cut it in marble, or to cast it section by section in plaster of Paris for its final re-casting in bronze. All the while, too, in the sculptor’s care, are the hundred architectural details, even the fine stone-work of the monument. He must personally select his marble or granite, just as must go hundreds of miles to oversee the turning of his clay into metal.

These things are set down thus lengthily to make it evident how different is the art of the sculptor from that of the painter or the novelist. With infinite patience the former must for month after month do what is almost the work of the manual laborer, yet at the same time keep, nay, intensify his inspiration. He must, through all, hold to his conception as if he had begun by casting it mentally in bronze. It is an art to kill weak spirits. And this is why there are comparatively few sculptors, even of the second class. Since the age of Pericles those who have attained the first class could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

The subject of this sketch was born in Toronto, in June, 1875. He comes of a large Newfound-

land stock. He received the sort of education with which most o: us are flung upon the rocks. And from the age 'ii fourteen to eighteen, he studied with a local firm of architects. Also, he was learning to use the mallet and chisel; and—much more —he had awakened to the potentialities of modelling clay. It was not long until the young architect was working out heads, and little bas reliefs and figure groups. And at a time when of all things in Canada, sculpture might seem to promise least, when it was an art, which could not even be studied in a school, a sculptor he began to make himself.

The old first problem was, as always, that of self-support. With the youthful painter this generally means portraits. With the sculptor it means busts. And in the case of Mr. Allward, a long list of them could be drawn up, from Tennyson to Sir Charles Tupper and Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Many of these busts were, too, of exceedingly good workmanship. But they were not what he wanted to do. His first notable “outside” work was the monument in Queen’s Park. Toronto, to

commemorate the Northwest Rebellion. After that came the statue of Governer Simcoe, a few rods to the west of it—of which Professor Goldwin Smith wrote at its unveiling that, “badly placed as it was, where it stood was the place of honor ; it was an earnest of the progress of Canadian art.” About the same time he received the award for the monument to Sir Oliver Mowat. He married, and seized a few months of London and Paris. The French—Fremiet, Paul Dubois, Rodin—though hitherto he had been able to look at their work only in photographs, had been his masters from the beginning.

Since then he has been kept continually employed, and he has been as steadily going on to larger and more .vital things. The Mowat, also in Queen’s Park, was followed by a memorial to Sir Nicholas Flood Davin, in Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa, a piece of work eloquent with a deeply fine simplicity. Meanwhile he was modelling a half-length figure for a monument called for by the Army and Navy Veterans’ Association. It was set up in Portland Square, Toronto, the site at one time

of the military burying ground. The figure is that of an old soldier of 1812, his head bared, his face upraised, his lips parted, his expression that of one who through the solemn ritual of evensong hears the beginnings of a roll-call, which is not of this world. It is not largeness which makes great work. Any Toronto man or visitor to Toronto, has merely to walk down to that squalid little square, to see what, in its kind, he can see no better in Paris or Florence or Rome — profound feeling nobly expressed.

Mr. Allward’s design, one of thirty-six. had already been accepted by the Committee of the South African Memorial Association. The corner-stone of this monument was recently laid. It is to be completed in 1910. At the present moment -till another statue by Mr. Allward, that of John Sandfield Macdonald, is awaiting its place to the south of the

Provincial Parliament buildings. A year ago he received the commission for the Baldwin-Lafontaine group upon Parliament Hill in Ottawa. And in the present year he was chosen to give America its Bell Memorial. All of this means, reduced to its lowest terms, a great mass of work. Every year until 1912, will see the unveiling of some monument of the first-class. It also means that from the local and provincial, Mr. Allward has passed on to work for the Dominion as a whole, and thence to conceptions meant to give voice to one great phase—invention—of our modern civilization. This is something to pause upon.

But let us first go back a little, for example to the John Sandfield Macdonald. If an artist is doing “portrait work,” he will, if he is a true artist, put into the likeness something that is a vast deal more than

a likeness. And in the case of the Sandfield Macdonald, it was not enough that the bronze should look like “John Sandfield.” It does. But, to add thereto, the expression chosen, the attitude, the pose of the body, the way the clothes hang upon it, the Scotch dryness and argumentativeness and containedness, the lack of all that is unco vivid or dramatic, make the figure a veritable

type, .

Pass on one step to the “BaldwinLafontaine.” Within the two curving sides of the exedra, sculptured in low relief are two figures representing Upper and Lower Canada. The former is given its emblem in sheaf and plow; the latter in ship and cross. But the figures of the statesmen themselves express the two provinces without any need of symbols.

They embody the parliamentary union of French and English in mid Nineteenth century Canada with the dignity yet almost the intimacy of the conversational. There is absolutely none of that exaggeration of nationality, which such a subject would seem fairly to invite. None the less, while the individuals are wholly themselves, the nationality is there. And, even as they stand conferring before one of the old parliamen t a r y desks, so subtly, but powerfu 11 y, has the sculptor been able to make the idea of nationality great

as it is, seem secondary to that more significant—and quieter—thing, constitutional government.

When we pass to the South African Memorial we reach that order of sculpture where the figures must themselves be symbols. At the base of the shaft sits Canada, a strong young nation-mother, flanked by two young soldiers in the uniform of the Canadian Contingents, an infantryman and a dismounted cavalryman. Both of these latter figures are excellent — keen, lean of limb, with the beauty of the sinewy, rather than of the curve. They are full of vigor and action. The actuality of their equipment, their strength and soldierly capacity for what they are there to do, take away all cheap necessity for heroic pose or theatric gesture. But the figure of Canada is one that, when the statue is set in place, will be widely spoken of indeed. The French literary world has a proverb which says that immortality may be gained by forty lines. Forty lines can hardly represent the work that has gone into Mr. Allward’s Canada. But, taking the risk which everyone takes who ventures to salute genius before the sod is over it, we venture the prophecy that the bronzecaught expression of that young mother of m e n, a s she beholds her sons depart, the yearn i n g after them,

yet the large pride in seeing them go, the strength, the hope, the knowledge of what is taking thm—will be found to measure even to what is demanded of an artist when he is asked to express the renewal of life in death. And high over all poises a winged victory.

Again, the Bell Memorial makes a demand peculiarly difficult and peculiarly its own. One can symbolize certain abstract ideas, but how 32

symbolize the transmission of sound? How put the telephone into a shape of bigness and beauty? Not long ago a certain Parisian sculptor attempted to celebrate the Frenchman who had the largest part in giving us the automobile. And he placed him, in bronze, in an automobile of bronze ! It stands at one of the Paris octroi gates, shouting its own ugliness and absurditv. Turn from that to Mr. Allward’s

telephone. It is there in bronze. But it is in low relief. It is balanced by the portrait medallion, itself sunk deeply in the granite, of the inventor. And, while aiding in the interpretation of the whole — one who runs may read—it is the smallest part of it. Between the images of inventor and invention sits the spirit of Man, awakened to his ability to transmit sound. He sees Knowledge, Joy, Sorrow sent speeding over the thick rotundity of the earth. And once more he considers what he is and the mystery of this world with a new wonder. Raised high in the foreground, and typified by two

noble figures, draped and Juno-like, stand Hearer and Listener. Put in bald, everyday phrase they are “at the telephone.” But it is Humanity which hears and listens. And between mouth and ear all the dramas of our life play themselves out.

Mr. Allward has gone far, and he will go still further. The time must come when Canada will begin to seek those things, which cannot be bestowed by wheat crops and railway mileages. She may then discover that even while she has had little eye for them, a great beginning of those things has been given to her alreadv.