Friday, July 7, 2017

Happy Birthday Leo Friedlander!

New York, NY. 1939 World's Fair. Four Freedoms statues by Leo Friedlander. Photo: NYPL 1654212

New York, NY. 1939 World's Fair. Four Freedoms statues by Leo Friedlander.

Happy Birthday Leo Friedlander (July 6, 1890 - Oct. 24, 1966)
by Samuel D. Gruber

Leo Friedlander may be the least known but most visible of American Jewish sculptors He was a leader of architectural and monumental sculpture in the United States in the first half of the 20th century, and many of his works still adorn public buildings and spaces.The height of his career was in the 1930s when his figurative sculpture - free standing and in relief with recognizable but slightly distorted body types - was applied to some of the visible sites in New York, Washington, D.C. and in other major cities.  I don't think anyone today would consider Friedland a great sculptor - but he was regarded as a highly capable one, and a sculptor who was able to consistently combine his personal aesthetic with an appeal to popular taste. He combined his work straddled traditional Beaux-Arts figurative composition with Art Deco patterning and stylization.

He sculpted reliefs on Rockefeller Center in New York and provided the highly visible thirty-three-foot figures representing the "Four Freedoms (speech, press, religion, and assembly)  at the central esplanade of the 1939 World's Fair. The Fair was one of the the last great moments for figurative sculpture in the United States. Following World War II abstraction quickly gained favor. Friedlander was president of the National Sculpture Society in the 1950s a position from which he railed against the newest trends.

New York, NY. Rockefeller Center under construction with Leo Friedlander reliefs.
New York, NY. Rockefeller Center. Radio by  Leo Friedlander reliefs. Photo: Photo-ops
New York, NY. Rockefeller Center. Radio by Leo Friedlander. Photo: Photo-ops
New York, NY. Rockefeller Center with Leo Friedlander reliefs. Photo: Photo-ops


New York, NY. Rockefeller Center. Television by Leo Friedlander. Photo: Photo-ops
 At Rockefeller Center, Friedlander supplied reliefs on several themes for the side entrances. He had previously worked with architect Raymond Hood on the Social Science Building for the  1933-34 Century of Progress International Exposition, in Chicago, and had also been an assistnat earlier in his career to Paul Manship, who sculpted the central plaza figure of Prometheus. Friedlander's primary relief was at the 49th Street entrance, and was titled:  Transmission Receiving an Image of Dancers and Flashing it Through the Ether by Means of Television to Reception, Symbolized by Mother Earth and her Child, Man, perhaps the first work of art addressing the new medium of television. Carol Krinsky notes in her book Rockefeller Center (Oxford, 1978, p. 144) that John D. Rockefeller did not care for Friedlander's work and that he wrote that they were "gross and beautiful."


Friedlander is also well known for his colossal public monuments, including the equestrian statues for the Arts of War installation of the equestrian statues Valor and Sacrifice at Washington, D.C.'s Arlington Memorial Bridge. 

Washington, DC. Memorial Bridge. Arts of Wars (Sacrifice), by Leo Friedlander.
Friedlander is included in Who's Who in American Jewry 1926, but I have found few other mentions of Jewish affiliation. He was born in New York David and Margarethe (King) Friedlander. He was a precocious artist and exhibited drawings at the Art Students League in New York when he was only twelve years old. He trained in Europe at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Brussels and Paris, and then as an Fellow in Sculpture at the American Academy in Rome (Prix de Rome 1913-1916), probably the first Jewish artist so honored. He also worked as an assistant to sculptor Paul Manship, America's leading exponent of Art Deco style sculpture.

Leo Friedlander standing in front of model for relief panel for Television, Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum J0119041.

Friedlander later headed the sculpture department at New York University and was also president of the National Sculpture Society. In 1936, he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member, and became a full Academician in 1949.

I have not done any deep research on Friedlander, but am not aware of any specifically Jewish commissions or works of Jewish content. There is, however, a bronze sculpture Tree of Life in the collection of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. While this theme could be Jewish, but it is a common theme non-denominational theme, too.  You can see other works by Friedlander in the Smithsonian collection here.

Tree of Life n.d. Leo Friedlander Born: New York, New York 1888 Died: White Plains, New York 1966 bronze 23 x 9 3/4 x 12 1/2 in. (58.4 x 24.7 x 31.9 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Gordon D. Friedlander 1971.151 Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Friedlander was also one of many leading artists who exhibited a model at the Jewish Museum in October 1949 for the proposed Holocaust Monument planned for Riverside Park in New York City, but never built. 

Here is a partial list of his major works (from Wikipedia). I'll expand this in the future: 

• The central pediment (1930) at the Museum of the City of New York 
• Sculptures at Washington Memorial Arch, Valley Forge National Historical Park 
• Reliefs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. 
• Sculpted reliefs (1931), Jefferson County Courthouse, Birmingham, Alabama 
• Pylons, Social Science Building, (1932) 1933-34 Century of Progress International Exposition, Chicago 
• Reliefs (1939) on the RCA Building at Rockefeller Center 
• The Arts of War sculptures, Sacrifice and Valor, flanking the Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C. 
• Four Freedoms statues, 1940 New York World's Fair 
• Memory Sculpture, War Memorial, Richmond, VA 
• American Military Cemetery, Hamm, Luxembourg 
• Covered Wagon sculptural panels, Oregon State Capitol, Salem, OR



• Lewis and Clark sculptural panels, Oregon State Capitol, Salem, OR 
• Roger Williams Statue, Prospect Terrace Park, Providence, RI 
• Pioneer Woman Statue, Texas Women's University, Denton, TX


• Sculptured Clock, House of Representatives, Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. 
• Bacchante, bronze statue, Metropolitan Museum of Art 
• "Harmony Creates Tranquility" bronze medal, Metropolitan Museum of Art 

Good biographical and critical source material on Friedlander is not readily available - so reader's are invited to send in more information

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