The reader may know that I am looking into American funerary portraits. Searching turns up a fair number of them, but there is always a question of whether portrait statues or busts in the wild were made for the tomb or were repurposed from a domestic setting.

It’s therefore time to touch base with theory, so to speak, to illuminate practice. Let’s have a look at a catalog for white bronze (zinc) monuments made by the Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport, CT. Happily the Smithsonian has digitized the MBC catalog of 1882.

The Monumental Bronze Company catalog, October, 1882, page 16. Detail: advertisement for free-standing portrait bust in white bronze.. Internet archive. From the Smithsonian Collection. Public domain.

The resolution is low, so I will reprint the associated text here:

“Sample of life-size Portrait Busts such as we are prepared to model from photos or sittings, and cast in White Bronze for $300, duplicates for $100. Height 29 in. When possible, views of right, back and left sides are desirable, also a few measurements, which will enable the artist to get correct size of head. This already popular method of perpetuating the likeness and memory of individuals, can now be made more attractive than ever before, owing to price, appropriate color, and durability of the material we use. These busts can be placed on our monuments or on those of marble and granite.”

Monumental Bronze Co. catalog, October 1882, p. 16.

MBC dates the beginning of white bronze monuments to the mid-1870s, so this catalog is early in their development. More to the point, it’s clear that there was a demand for funerary portraits to which this catalog responds, and upon which MBC was trying to cash in. Cha-ching!

Here are examples of white bronze monuments: once you see their distinctive color, there is no mistaking one. They’re interesting to find, but I think relatively unattractive. See, for example, the unsightly casting seams in the figure on the right in the gallery below (click to enlarge).

I’ve yet to see a white bronze portrait in a mausoleum yet, or a portrait bust in the round on an outdoor monument.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Arlington, VA

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3 Comments

  1. on on those of marble and granite Did MBC have this dittography in its catalog or did you retype it?

    So that whole obelisk was made of bronze?!? What does one add to the metal to make it white? Oh, I looked it up. Zinc.

    Douglas Domingo-Forasté

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