The Sculpture of Central Park
One of the many pleasures of New York's Central Park (now marking its 150th anniversary) is the splendid
setting it provides for enjoying the numerous works of sculpture placed there. A selection of our own
favorites (beginning at the north end of the park) follows:
- Three Dancing Maidens (Untermeyer Fountain). The online image of this spirited, joyful work, by the
German sculptor Walter Schott, which is set in the center of an often spectacular floral garden, does not do
it justice. The sculpture is ideally seen when the fountain is on and the three maidens, each highly
individualized, can be seen cavorting in the spray, as the sculptor intended. We especially like one of the
three, but will not reveal who she is here. Located in the Conservatory Garden [more].
- Burnett Memorial Fountain. Just a short distance from Three Dancing Maidens, also in the
Conservatory Garden, this memorial to the author Frances Hodgson Burnett features a sculpture--by Bessie
Potter Vonnoh--of a girl and a boy suggestive of the principal characters of Burnett's much-beloved
children's book, The Secret Garden (for that reason, we, and probably others as well, like to refer to it by
that name). The figure of the girl, in particular, is enchanting.
- Angel of the Waters (Bethesda Fountain and Terrace).
The only sculpture commissioned as part of the
park's initial design, this work--by Emma Stebbins (another of the many accomplished women sculptors
active in the late nineteenth and early twentieth ceturies)--forms the park's centerpiece and is considerably
more satisfying than grudging early critics gave it credit for.
- The Falconer [more]. Most people who pass by this work on foot do not even notice
against the sky, as one must look up to see it. Elegant and noble, and over life-sized, it stands atop a granite
pedestal, which itself positioned on an elevated natural outcropping of Manhattan schist. The sculptor,
George Blackall Simonds (1844-1929), was himself a falconer and president of the British Falconer's Club.
- (The Mall and Literary Walk) Concern that sculpture might eventually overwhelm the rural character of
the park led the park's designer, Frederick Law Olmsted, to propose that the Mall be used for the
installation of sculptures, which include figures of Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott.
- Balto. Children, especially, should not miss this tribute to the heroic Alaskan sled dog, Balto, which led
a life-saving expedition in blizzard conditions in 1925. The sculptor is Frederick George Richard Roth
- Indian Hunter. John Quincy Adams Ward (1830-1910) [more
--click on images to enlarge] was one of
America's most accomplished sculptors, and this dramatic rendering of a hunter and his dog is one of his
- William Shakespeare. The best of all the sculptures along "Literary Walk" this evocative work, also by
J. Q. A. Ward, depicts Shakespeare in a contemplative mood. Fittingly, an actor-friend of Ward posed for
the figure. For an imaginative representation of this sculpture and its setting, see Central Park Lovers, by
the Spanish painter José Manuel Capuletti (who was much admired by Ayn Rand and the pianist Arthur
Rubinstein, among others).
- José Martí. This monument to the Cuban patriot, journalist, and poet depicts him on horseback, mortally
wounded. It is by Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973) [more], one of America's outstanding sculptors,
whose reputation--like that of others we have cited--has been eclipsed by modernism and
postmodernism. (Not in Central Park, but across the street from it on Fifth Avenue--at the National
Academy of Design, between 89th and 90th streets--is Huntington's Diana of the Chase. Across town, at
Riverside Drive and West 93rd Street, next to Riverside Park, is another notable work by this superb
sculptor, Joan of Arc. The Memorial Art Gallery at the University of Rochester [N. Y.] owns a small
bronze version [click on image to enlarge]. For more on Huntington, see our comments on Brookgreen
- Hans Christian Andersen [more] Seated on a bench, with a copy of The Ugly Duckling
open on his lap,
the gangly figure of this beloved Danish writer beckons children to gather round and listen--as they
regularly do at Saturday-morning storytelling sessions.
- Alice in Wonderland [more] [more
]. Overlooking the Conservatory Water (or model sailboat pond), this
whimsical group by the Spanish-American sculptor José de Creeft (1884-1982) shows Alice sittingon a
giant mushroom surrounded by the March Hare, the Mad Hatter, the Dormouse, and the Cheshire Cat.
Not surprisingly, it was designed to be clambered over by children, and is best viewed that way.
- William Tecumseh Sherman [more]. This grand work by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) is
distinguished by its gilded bronze surface--not our preference, but dramatic nontheless. It is located just
outside the south end of Central Park (on Grand Army Plaza, at the corner of 59th Street and Fifth
- Slideshow. Multiple views of the works listed above, plus other sculptures, fountains, and architectual
features of the park--89 slides in all--make this series a delight. Just one work is a postmodern
concoction purporting to be sculpture.
An invaluable volume of information (with black & white photographs) on all the works cited above is The
Art Commission and the Municipal Art Society Guide to Manhattan's Outdoor Sculpture (1988), by
Margot Gayle and Michele Cohen. Unfortunately, it is out of print, but copies of the original paperback
edition can often be purchased (not inexpensively, however) through Bookfinder and other online sources.
For further information on Central Park:
Central Park Conservancy (the official website for the park--do not miss the "Virtual Park," which
includes maps showing the location of the sculptures and other features.)
New York Focus: Central Park
Central Park (a personal website)
The Conservatory Garden [more]
Central Park: A Sesquicentennial Celebration at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 15,
2003-September 28, 2003
Buy a Map and Guide (highly detailed and worth every penny)
Map and Information
Useful Information for Parents and Ordinary Adults [more]
Food for Kids
If you plan a tour of the park, you might want to consult enlargements of the sectional maps, to determine
the location of rest rooms, ahead of time. See also this map.