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Sculpture by William Rimmer: Dying Centaur, represented by Childs Gallery

William Rimmer

American (1816-1879)

Dying Centaur, 1869

Number 7 in the edition of 15. Signed on base: ‘W. Rimmer’; inscribed and numbered on base: ‘1968 Kennedy Galleries inc. 7/15’. Cast in 1968. In fine condition.

Plaster Exhibited: Annual Exhibition of the School of Design for Women at Cooper Union, New York, 1869. (now Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

The original plaster cast of the Dying Centaur, dated 1869, can be found in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A second plaster cast from 1905 is in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery. A presumably lost intermediate plaster cast, produced sometime before the Yale plaster, served as the mold for the bronze cast in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bronze casts from the edition of fifteen copyrighted in 1967 by Kennedy Galleries, New York, and cast from the Yale plaster, can be found in the collection of the National Gallery, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Throughout his life, William Rimmer’s father believed that he was the son of Louis XVI; Though today this does not appear to have been true, the artist’s belief in his royal lineage certainly inspired his art. Indeed, as Jeffrey Weidman suggests, Dying Centaur may have symbolized Rimmer himself, who, because of his supposed royal pedigree, was forced to lead a rather solitary life.

Weidman and other scholars posit several other possible inspirations for Dying Centaur. Rimmer’s mentor, Stephen Perkins, was working on a sculpture entitled Chiron in the early 1880s and conveyed significant information regarding his conception to his pupil while the work was in progress. Given that Rimmer’s centaur is not the traditional grotesque and hypersexual specimen, but rather a calmly noble and heroic being, it could be a reference to Perkins’ Chiron. Along a similar line, given its date of execution, the sculpture may also be symbolic of the selflessness and heroism found in the soldiers who died in the Civil War. Also in reference to the centaur’s aura of serene heroism, the sculpture may have been inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1860 text The Marble Faun, in which the author claims that ‘In some long-past age [the Faun] must really have existed. Nature needed, and still needs, this beautiful creature; standing betwixt man and animal, sympathizing with each, comprehending the speech of either race, and interpreting the whole existence of one to the other.’

Whatever the case, ‘conceptually bold, compositionally dramatic, formally sensitive powerful, thematically richly textured, and symbolically multilayered, Dying Centaur is a quintessential work by William Rimmer.’ The sculpture is a ‘commitment to a Greek ideal…The Centaur suggests this ideal in its subject matter, youthful body, calm face, and severed arms…the truncated limbs imitate antique sculptural fragments, consequently evoking the lost culture that gave birth to the artistic ideal.’

1. Weidman, Jeffrey. ‘William Rimmer.’ European Sculpture of the Nineteenth Century. Ruth Butler, Suzanne G. Lindsay, et al., Eds. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 2000. 449.

2. Weidman 442.

3. Weidman, Jeffrey. ‘William Rimmer.’ The Art Institute of Chicago Centennial Lectures vol. 10. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1983. 157.

Signature: signed on base
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