Collecting Men: Early 20th-Century Figurative Art

Our Artist Spotlight often features pieces from the first half of the last century. This collection from Renaissance Man Antiques offers work that inspires the beginning or the seasoned collector.



"Zephyrus and Hyacinthus", detail, Raoul Pene duBois

A.R. Jaeger's business, Renaissance Man Antiques, is like a candy store for anyone collecting and seeking information about male figurative art from the early 20th century. So we were delighted when Jaeger contacted us to see if he could help with more material for our galleries. His stockpile in enormous, and it's matched only by his knowledge of the work. Enjoy these selections from Jaeger (and link through if you are interested in more information including purchasing details).

The Advocate: What initially drew you to early 20th-century male figurative artwork?
A.R. Jaeger: For 30 years, I've been interested in the kind of allegorical sculpture and painting that has been associated with America's grand public and commercial buildings from the 1910s, '20s, '30s and '40s. Among the best examples of this kind of public art are the murals commissioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for post offices and works created for the Works Progress Administration in the Roosevelt era. These paintings and sculptures often celebrate the American worker and offer allegories of American agriculture, manufacturing, communication and transportation. Some of the first pieces we offered for sale were mural studies and small sculptures by important WPA artists, and this kind of work still constitutes a major part of our collection.  

The first work of this sort that caught your eye?  
I remember it distinctly — it was a bronze art medal by Walker Hancock, showing two nude male figures lifting up a broken column, anticipating the rebuilding of the world after World War II. (Pictured right.) Hancock also sculpted a monumental bronze for the main waiting room of 30th Street Station, the main railroad station in Philadelphia, which depicts an angel holding a half-nude, dying soldier.  It is enormously poignant and beautiful.

Have there been any pieces you could just not let go of?
My friends always said that I could never let go of some of our most spectacular pieces, but by and large I feel that any piece that sells will inevitably be replaced by an equally great piece, usually something I can never predict. There are exceptions — pieces that mean a great deal or fit in the house so perfectly — such as a painting by Henry Soulen for the Christmas issue of a 1930s magazine, depicting people from all walks of life, including a construction worker, stockbroker, society lady, and immigrant with child. At the center of the painting are scientists suffused in a golden glow coming from a white-robed Christ figure. This painting depicts its era with such dignity and style.

Click through for a selection of artwork >>>

Tags: Art