You may never have heard of him, but in 1903, when the Saint Louis Art Museum’s original building in Forest Park was finished, Cass Gilbert had already become one of the most important American Architects of his generation, having risen to national prominence with his design for the Minnesota state capitol in Saint Paul and the United States Custom House in New York City. The building is indeed magnificent, and is one of two public buildings in St. Louis designed by Gilbert, the other being the downtown city library. Gilbert is credited with saying that “public buildings best serve the public by being beautiful”, a sentiment I concur with but seems to be out of style in our generation (take a look at the federal courthouse downtown if you don’t believe me).
Tonight I spent some time capturing the facade of the building, including the relatively recent addition on east side of it. I took 7 photos from evenly spaced points in front of the building with an architectural lens and when I got home pieced them into a continuous image in Photoshop. Don’t look too closely, as there are some perspective anomalies, but this is roughly what you would see if you stood back far enough and Louis and the trees were not in the way.
Under the portico, with its 6 statues representing different epochs of art, and directly above the doors of the museum, are three relief panels by American sculptor Hermon A. MacNeil 1866-1947. Entitled Ars Artium Omnium (The Art of All Arts), here’s what the artist himself had to say about this work:
“In regard to an interpretation of the bas-relief of the facade of the City Art Museum, the attempt was made to produce a figure of beauty, as the central figure in the milled panel – “an apotheosis” – if you will, enshrined. On either side of her (is) St. Louis – with the city seal – out of her abundance, paying homage to the beauty…
On the right, you have allegorical figures representing Sculpture, Painting, Music, and the fourth figure introduced (that could) go by any name…
On the opposite side are the figures of architecture and the allied arts; Ceramic and the kneeling figure typifying the discovery of the beauty oftentimes dug from the earth that has been produced in past ages. You will notice in the grouping (that) the two side panels lead toward the central figure.”
How ‘bout that; now you know!