"Boy with Fish", ca. 1915
cast signature and "Roman Bronze Works" foundry inscription at base.
h. 47-1/2", w. 20", d. 20"
Provenance: Private collection, Long Island, New York; James Graham & Sons, New York, New York; J. Johnson Gallery, Jacksonville Beach, Florida; Estate of Edward "Ted" L'Engle Baker and Ann McDonald Baker, Jacksonville, Florida.
Literature: Conner, Janis and Rosenkranz, Joel, Rediscoveries in American Sculpture: Studio Works, 1893-1939, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989; Rubenstein, Charlotte Streifer, American Women Sculptors, Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1990.
Notes: "The feel of that clay in my hand was entirely different from anything I had ever experienced before. Just the mere sensual part of it, the touch, seemed to fire me with something tremendously stimulating."
Born into a Terre Haute, Indiana family that experienced severe personal and financial difficulties shortly after her birth, Scudder had a difficult childhood; her mother died when she was five, four of her six siblings died in childhood, and her father's confectionary business failed. Through her resilience, determination and continued persistence in the face of adversity, she was to ultimately become one of the most successful women artists of the early to mid-20th century.
She attended drawing classes at a local art school before entering the Cincinnati Art Academy, where she supported her studies by carving ornaments for furniture and mantels. She later attended the Art Institute of Chicago and worked with a local woodworker until the woodcarver's union - unhappy a woman was working in their field - threatened to strike unless she was dismissed. This seeming set-back proved to be a pivotal moment in her career; her former instructor, Lorado Taft, was looking for studio assistants. Taft had successfully petitioned the director of the World's Columbian Exposition to allow for women sculptors and Scudder, along with fellow artists such as Bessie Potter Vonnoh, began work on the Exposition's structures. Her formidable skill soon earned her two personal commissions for the Illinois and Indiana buildings, for which she was awarded a Bronze medal. Impressed by Frederick MacMonnies' submission, "Barge of State", she determined to become his student. This was no easy task; MacMonnies was at the time one of the most acclaimed sculptors and, significantly, had never accepted a woman student. Unbothered and undeterred by his consistent rejection, Scudder showed up at his studio in Paris in 1894. Finally wearing him down, MacMonnies accepted her as an assistant; he was eventually to consider her one of his most accomplished and promising students. While in France, Scudder attended the Academie Colarossi and organized lessons for her fellow women artists at the Academie Vitti.
Upon her return to the United States in 1896, despite her obvious skill, credentials and impressive letters of introduction from the most celebrated sculptors of the day, Scudder was rebuffed by the New York art community - most specifically by Augustus Saint-Gaudens who refused to accept her as a studio assistant. Undeterred, she supported herself by producing bas-relief medallions, and doing ornamental architectural work. In 1898, she returned to France and the following winter she and a friend traveled across Italy. It was during excursions to the ruins of Pompeii that Scudder was inspired to reconsider the course of her career and her artistic approach. As she later stated, "I filled my brain and my sketchbook to overflowing with all those gay pagan figures and then and there decided never to do stupid, solemn, self-righteous sculpture - even if I had to die in a poorhouse…My work should please and amuse the world…My work was going to decorate spots, make people feel cheerful and gay - nothing more!" Thus began her series of what she referred to as her "water babies"; chubby, cheerful garden figures and fountains with more than a hint of the antique. On her return to New York, she began a relentless campaign to convince the architect Stanford White, arguably the most influential American architect at the time, that a business association would be equally beneficial to them both. After years of correspondence - mostly on her part - he eventually conceded after seeing one of her fountains in the garden of one of his client's. They were to collaborate closely on the park and garden designs until his untimely death.
In 1914, Scudder created a sculpture of Pan for one of the grottos in John D. Rockefeller's country estate Pocantico Hills which resulted in a full- page interview in the New York Times. She had now reached the apex of her career and found her work in high demand.
Throughout her life, Scudder refused to allow society's assumptions and opinions on women artists to impede her in any way, scoffing quite vocally at any insinuation of any inherent physical or intellectual limitations. Her career trajectory as a sculptor, still an unusual path for a woman in the early decades of the 20th century, went hand in hand with the burgeoning suffrage movement. Scudder was a member of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association, on the art committee of the American Woman Suffrage Movement, and took part in numerous parades and demonstrations. In 1915, she created "Femina Victrix/Victory", a sculpture modeled by her friend Irene Castle which was initially intended for a National Suffrage Monument.
In 1920, she was made an Academician of the National Academy of Design and in 1925 the French government named her a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur for her relief work during WWI.