source: anb.org American National Biorgraphy.
McCartan, Edward Francis (16 Aug. 1879-20 Sept. 1947), sculptor, was born in Albany, New York, the son of Michael McCartan, an Irish immigrant merchant of limited means, and Anna Hyland. McCartan began to draw instinctively at age five or six and by age ten had modeled a lion in clay. In his teens he entered Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and studied with Herbert Adams. He enrolled at the Art Students' League in New York City in the fall of 1901 to study sculpture with George Grey Barnard and Hermon Atkins MacNeil and drawing with Kenyon Cox and Bryson Burroughs. McCartan supported his widowed mother, who had moved to New York City, by assisting Adams, MacNeil, Karl Bitter, Isidore Konti, Francois Tonetti, J. Massey Rhind, and other sculptors who appreciated his proficiency at enlarging monumental and architectural sculpture.
Through Rhind, McCartan received the commission for a statue of Benito Juarez for Mexico City, which he completed in 1906. With the proceeds from that job he traveled to Paris, where he entered the Ã‰cole des Beaux-Arts studio of Jean Antoine Injalbert on 30 March 1907. He stayed for three years, making frequent visits to the Louvre to see antique and Renaissance sculpture. McCartan also became well acquainted with the statuary at Versailles. The sculpture of Jean Goujon, Clodion, and Jean Antoine Houdon exerted a lasting influence on McCartan. He exhibited at the salons in Paris but later destroyed most of his early sculptures. Although McCartan expressed enthusiasm about the work of Rodin during his stay in Paris, Rodin's impact on McCartan's sculpture was short lived. Only one work, The Kiss (Albright-Knox Gallery), a marble group of a nude female kissing a child, echoes Rodin's style. McCartan began The Kiss in Paris in 1908 but did not finish it until 1924.
McCartan returned to New York in February 1910 and for a year helped Adams on the McMillan Fountain for Washington, D.C. He again assisted MacNeil, Rhind, Konti, and Tonetti before opening his own studio in New York in 1913. In 1914 McCartan began teaching at the School of Beaux-Arts Architects (later called Beaux-Arts Institute of Design), where he trained many American sculptors to create ornament for neoclassical buildings. Such work was consistent with McCartan's artistic philosophy, which recognized that sculpture should be decorative and allied with its surroundings.
McCartan created architectural sculpture for the New York Central building (New York City, 1928), the New Jersey Telephone building (Newark, c. 1928), and the Department of Labor Building (Washington, D.C., 1934). He also produced a work of monumental sculpture, the Eugene Field Memorial for Lincoln Park in Chicago, which won the medal of honor at the exhibition of the Architectural League of New York in 1923. But McCartan was far more prolific in the production of mythical woodland creatures that he intended for placement in gardens, where the floral surroundings created a natural home for his sylvan figures. In this genre the love and mastery of elegant line and graceful form that McCartan had acquired from the study of French eighteenth-century sculpture served him especially well.
From the National Academy of Design in 1912 McCartan won the Helen Foster Barnett Prize for Sculpture (for the best work by a sculptor under thirty-five) for Fountain, a naiad atop a turtle with a large basin from which water pours. He won the Wilder Gold Medal at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1916 for his Spirit of the Woods, a slender, dancing bacchante holding a baby in her outstretched hands--a composition reminiscent of Frederick MacMonnies's infamous Bacchante and Infant Faun. McCartan's Pan, which was influenced by MacMonnies's Pan of Rohallion, was exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1913 and the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. His Dancing Satyr (c. 1915) and Girl with Goat (c. 1920) were also widely acclaimed. McCartan's mature style is fully evident in the Nymph and Satyr (Century Association, 1920). Art historian Beatrice Proske discerned that "the forms are purified and the lucid composition polished to a glowing brilliancy of line. The few ornamental passages, the hair, the basket of fruit, and the satyr's wreath are finished with sparkling clarity of detail" (Proske, p. 230).
McCartan created his best-known work, Diana with a Hound, in 1923. In this signature piece he crystallized his conception of the ideal nude in the spirit of Clodion and Jean Goujon. The svelte huntress strides forward while restraining her lean hound, who leaps ahead at her side. She twists to resist his pressure on the leash and extends the bow in her left hand to keep her balance, thus framing the primary view of her exquisite torso as her muscles tighten in response to the dog. The interplay of human and animal energy and forward and backward movement create a tension visible throughout the softly modeled forms of the goddess's nubile body. The gilded leash, bow, and the crescent moon on Diana's tiara highlight the refined composition, which ranks as McCartan's masterpiece and one of the most beautiful nudes in the history of art. It was exhibited at the National Sculpture Society exhibition in 1923 and in 1925 at the Concord Art Association, where it won a medal of honor. The first bronze cast of the two-foot-tall sculpture was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a heroic-scale version was completed for a Connecticut garden in 1930.
In the 1920s McCartan also produced Dionysus (1923), a muscular youth with a panther at his feet; the work won the McClees Prize when it was exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1931. The sculpture was enlarged, remodeled, gilded, and placed in Brookgreen Gardens at Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, in 1930. Like Diana, its anatomical accuracy, lyrical lines, and graceful pose echo French eighteenth-century sculpture. Isolute (1926), a larger-than-life nude with a fawn, marks McCartan's shift from naturalistic modeling to bolder, more simplified forms. His Bather (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1935) is the best example of this phase of his career. In this standing figure McCartan concentrated on form rather than line, and a hint of archaism is evident.
McCartan spent several months in 1936 as a visitor at the American Academy in Rome. In the late 1930s McCartan, a heavy smoker, began to suffer from emphysema. His creativity decreased, and he received few new commissions except portraits, but he continued to teach. He became head of the Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore in 1943. McCartan never married, and he died, bankrupt, in New Rochelle, New York. The National Sculpture Society paid his funeral expenses.
About one hundred items of McCartan's correspondence (1924-1947), primarily concerning the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, are in the American Academy of Arts and Letters Library. An interview with McCartan is in the Dewitt M. Lockman Collection of Interviews with American Artists, New-York Historical Society. The best source on McCartan is Janis Conner and Joel Rosenkranz, Rediscoveries in American Sculpture: Studio Works, 1893-1939 (1989). Royal Cortissoz, "The Sculpture of Edward McCartan--The Winter Academy," Scribner's Monthly, Feb. 1928, pp. 236-44, is insightful, particularly regarding the essence of McCartan's style. See also Cortissoz, The Painter's Craft (1930); and Agusta Owen Patterson, "Edward McCartan, Sculptor," International Studio 83 (Jan. 1926): 27-31. Beatrice Gilman Proske, Brookgreen Gardens Sculpture (1943) illuminates McCartan's garden statuary; and George Gurney, Sculpture and the Federal Triangle (1985) discusses McCartan's role in the Department of Labor Building architectural sculpture.
Michael W. Panhorst