Sculpture in Yonkers
In the early 20th century, Isidore Konti, a Hungarian who grew up and studied in Austria, was a highly skilled practitioner of the Beaux-Arts tradition. He lived in Yonkers from 1906 until his death, even moving his studio from New York City in 1914.
This portrait hung in the annual exhibition at the National Academy of Design in 1911. Edward Hale Brush mentioned it in a 1912 Fine Arts Journal article, noting that “the painter has expressed most sympathetically the qualities of refinement one finds in both the man and the artist.”
Konti became a key member of the Yonkers cultural scene, co-founding the Yonkers Art Association, serving as commissioner of the Yonkers Museum of Science and Arts (Hudson River Museum), and producing four commissions for public statuary.
Konti earned an international reputation for works such as this. During his lifetime, the Genius of Immortality, with it sensuous and sinuous lines and tactile surfaces, was one of his most admired sculptures. The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired a copy in 1916, the next year another was lent to the Detroit Institute of Art by one if its major donors. Overseas, the Italian government owned a copy. Like many of Konti’s subjects, the poetic title of the Genius is not directly narrative, but suggests a variety of allegorical associations.
Samuel Untermyer’s mansion, Greystone, is Yonkers grandest “lost” house, originally built in the 1860s for hat manufacturer John Waring. The second owner was former New York governor Samuel Tilden, who retired to Yonkers after losing the 1876 Presidential election to Rutherford Hayes. Untermyer (1858-1940) purchased Greystone in 1899. A graduate of Columbia Law School and a moderate Zionist, he is best known for his trust-busting activities and for his early and vociferous opposition to Hitler.
Samuel Untermyer enlarged the land holdings of his Greystone estate on both sides of North Broadway, and made cultivation of the grounds his own special project. He spent years landscaping and embellishing his grounds with statuary, classical colonnades, and reflecting pools. Tradition has it that he constructed the gardens in his wife Minnie’s honor.
The Hudson River Museum’s 1906 oil painting of Mrs. Samuel Untermyer (Minnie Karl, died 1924) is a masterpiece of Edwardian-era portraiture. James Jebusa Shannon depicts her full-length and formal in low-cut silvery silk embellished with flowers, her gray hair upswept in a graceful, Gibson-girl knot. At the time, Samuel and Minnie Untermyer were living in Yonkers at Greystone. He and Minnie had married in 1880 and had three children: Alvin (1882-1963), Irwin (1886-1973) and Irene (Mrs. Stanley L. Richter, 1893-1974).
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, James Jebusa Shannon (1862-1923) and John Singer Sargent, both American expatriates, were the premier portrait painters of English Society. Shannon’s fame has long been overshadowed by that of Sargent, but the talented and prolific artist deserves more recognition. He grew up in upstate New York and Canada before relocating to England for art studies at the age of 16. Early success encouraged Shannon to stay in London permanently, but he made working trips to the northeastern United States during the winter social seasons of 1905, 1906 and 1907. The Museum’s portrait, along with Shannon’s portrait of daughter Irene, was displayed at the National Academy of Design in 1908.
In 1902, this plaster, sculpted by Isidore Konti for himself and intended as a full-scale model for a fountain, was exhibited at the National Sculpture Society’s exhibition in Madison Square Garden. His idealized female figure embodies turn-of-the-century Beaux Arts style. Samuel Untermyer may have seen the Brook in this debut because the next year he commissioned a marble version. Konti’s work on this project brought him to Yonkers, where Untermyer’s beautiful suburban estate with Hudson River views motivated him to move to the area. After Untermyer died in 1940, his estate was dispersed and the marble Brook’s whereabouts are unknown.
During Manship’s years as Konti’s apprentice, the younger artist visited the sculptor’s Yonkers home and probably saw Konti’s fountain at the Untermyer’s estate. Manship was later friends with Wells Bosworth, who landscaped Untermyer’s grounds as well as those at Kykuit. It is probably through this connection that, in 1917, Untermyer commissioned Manship to produce the famous Sphinxes, which still perch atop columns in the Grecian Gardens.
An early example of his mature style, Manship’s Sphinxs reveal his deep interest in the art of ancient Greece, especially the Archaic period. They are still installed in their original location at Untermyer Gardens, now a public park. The entrance to the park is on North Broadway, about two miles northeast of the Museum.
Manship typically drew upon Classical forms and narratives. He planned and executed Diana and Actaeon as a pair. The subject is from Roman mythology. According to the tale, the goddess Diana was bathing one day when the hunter Actaeon accidentally encountered her. Diana, who was herself a hunter as well as a virgin, avenged her moral outrage by turning Actaeon into a stag so that his own dogs would kill him. The beauty and taut immobility of Manship’s design seem to belie the brutality and frantic action of the story.
Manship's Diana and Actaeon can been seen atop the staircases at left and right in the background of this 1938 photograph. Luckily, they were not dispersed in the Untermyer estate sale but became property of the City of Yonkers when it acquired Untermyer Park. The City donated the sculptures to the Museum in 1948.
This plaster sculpture is one of Isidore Konti’s studies for the Hudson-Fulton Monument. On the sides of the base are busts of Henry Hudson and Robert Fulton, which were stolen from the actual monument sometime before the 1970s. They are specified in the contracts and blueprints and can also be seen in early photographs. Despite these detractions, the sculpture remains Yonkers’ most graceful example of public sculpture.
Paul Manship’s huge gilded statue of the Prometheus (1934), located in the main Plaza at Rockefeller Center, is one of his most famous works and said to be the most photographed outdoor sculpture in Manhattan. The quote carved in the granite wall behind the tragic Greek mythological hero reads: “Prometheus, Teacher in Every Art, Brought the Fire That Hath Proved to Mortals a Means to Mighty Ends.” (Aeschylus, 6th-century B.C.)
Laura Vookles, Chief Curator of Collections, Hudson River Museum
Jason Weller, Senior Art Technician, Hudson River Museum
Tara Dawson, Development Associate for Communication, Hudson River Museum
Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY
The most complete record of Konti’s work is the Hudson River Museum’s 1975 exhibition catalog The Sculpture of Isidore Konti, 1862-1938, which can be viewed in full on Google Books.