Bowdoin’s 19th-C. Bronze Statues of Demosthenes and Sophocles to Undergo Conservation

BRUNSWICK, Maine, August 4, 2014—Two life-size bronze statues on the campus of Bowdoin College that have withstood the weather and elements of Maine for 120 years will be rejuvenated beginning this week. 

Crafted by renowned Neapolitan bronze caster Sabatino de Angelis, the 19th century sculptures of the Ancient Greek playwright Sophocles and the Ancient Greek orator Demosthenes are original to the 1894 Beaux Arts Walker Art Building, home to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art (BCMA). Noted architect Charles Follen McKim of McKim, Mead & White, designed the building, which underwent a $20.8 million award-winning renovation and restoration in 2007.

The statues, commissioned by McKim for the façade of the Walker Art Building, occupy wall niches on either side of the building’s sweeping staircase where Bowdoin conducts commencement ceremonies for graduating seniors every spring and welcomes first-year students each fall. They will undergo onsite conservation and cleaning by a team from the Williamstown Art Conservation Center (WACC), of Williamstown, Mass., a nonprofit regional conservation facility devoted to the conservation and preservation of cultural and historical objects, of which the BCMA is a founding member.

The conservation of these works has benefitted from a five-year grant from the Lunder Foundation to the WACC to bolster the conservation budgets of the four Maine museums—including the Bowdoin College Museum of Art— that are members of the WACC consortium. The Lunder Foundation is a private foundation established in 1998 by Peter and Paula Lunder. It supports educational, arts, and health care organizations.

“Summer is the season for improvements on the Bowdoin campus, and we are excited about the opportunity to work with conservators from the Williamstown Conservation Center to ensure a long life for these beloved sculptures,” said BCMA Co-Director Frank Goodyear.

Both bronze statues are 19th-century copies of ancient works. Sophocles was modeled from a late fourth century BCE, Greek marble statue; and Demosthenes was modeled from a Vatican Collection marble copy of the original bronze, which was sculpted by Polyeuktos of Athens in 280 BCE. Other figures represented on the façade of the Walker Art Building include busts of Hermes, Dionysus, and Homer. At the time the Museum was established, the curriculum of Bowdoin College focused on the classics, so an educational as well as aesthetic motive is suggested by the selection of an orator and dramatist to decorate the Walker Art Building.

"We are delighted to have this opportunity to learn more about these works as we preserve them for future generations” said BCMA Co-Director Anne Goodyear. “We are grateful for the generosity of Peter and Paula Lunder that has helped make possible this project.”

Two object conservators from the WACC will conduct the conservation. The work is expected to take one to two weeks.

About the Bowdoin College Museum of Art

The collections of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art are among the most comprehensive of any college museum in the United States. Collecting commenced over 200 years ago with a major gift from the College’s founder James Bowdoin III and his family that included Gilbert Stuart’s magnificent portraits of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

The Museum is housed in the landmark Walker Art Building, designed in 1894 by Charles Follen McKim. Located on the historic quadrangle of Bowdoin College, the building is graced by murals by John La Farge, Kenyon Cox, Elihu Vedder, and Abbott Thayer. A $20.8 million renovation and expansion in 2007 provided a stunning setting for objects as diverse as monumental Assyrian reliefs from Nimrud, Iraq, European old master paintings, and works by American modernists. The Museum is the centerpiece of Bowdoin’s vibrant arts and culture community and offers a wealth of academic and educational programs. 

Fully accessible, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art is open to the public free of charge from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday; 10:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, and from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Auction Guide