Figure 1. Villard monument. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Tarrytown, N.Y. Photo: author.

A reading from the book of Sleepy Hollow. The face of this monument would be a jewel in any cemetery with its Art nouveau accents and bas relief portrait (figure 1). But in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown, New York, you can bet you’re in for more—a lot more. Buckle up: we’re in for a ride.

Let’s get the anagraphic data and epitaph out of the way:

HENRY VILLARD
BORN
HEINRICH HILGARD
AT SPEIER
RHENISH BAVARIA
APRIL 10TH 1835
DIED AT
THORWOOD DOBBS FERRY
ON HUDSON
NOVEMBER 12TH 1900
IN VIEW OF THIS SPOT

Figure 2. Villard monument. Portrait of Henry Villard. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Tarrytown N.Y. Photo: author.

[PORTRAIT OF DECEASED (FIGURE 2)]

JOURNALIST
CIVIL WAR CORRESPONDENT
SOMETIME SECRETARY
OF THE
AMERICAN SOCIAL SCIENCE ASSOCIATION
EARLY PROMOTOR OF CIVIL SERVICE REFORM
COMPLETOR OF THE
NORTHERN PACIFIC RAILROAD
FINANCIER
GENEROUS FRIEND
TO LEARNING SCIENCE AND THE ARTS
TO SUFFERING HUMANITY
HIS BOUNTY WAS BOUNDLESS
AS THE DEEP SEA
HIS LOVE AS DEEP

The wasps have been at the bronze portrait (figure 2), but it’s clear that the portrait has been exquisitely maintained. This monumental expression of Art Nouveau would not be out of place in Paris or Brussels.

But let’s turn this coin over and double tap it, as they say, checking the other side (which is actually the principal side, facing passersby on the road):

Figure 3. Villard monument. South face. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Tarrytown, N.Y. Photo: author.

The sculptor of the monument was Karl Bitter (1867-1915, this monument 1902-1904), as I learn from my friend over at Gravely Speaking. Bitter was no peripheral figure in the world of American monumental art from the time of his arrival in 1889 until his death from being hit by a car. He was director of sculpture for three world’s fairs, Buffalo in 1901, Saint Louis in 1904, and the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. You can read a great deal more in Donna Hassler’s article on him in the indispensable catalog American Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ed. Thayer Tolles (vol. 2, 2001, pages 489-495).

The Art Nouveau details are fantastic (figures 4, 5, 6): gnarled roots curving against a roughly picked background; crown of roses for labors; cosmic background with zodiac and stars. As the Guide Michelin says, “vaut le voyage.”

The program if the sculpture is that the hitherto restless worker is now, exhausted, finally pausing from his labors. And of course it is Bitter’s handsome male figure, still immensely powerful despite its languidness, that arrests our attention and raises this monument to one of the masterpieces of American funerary art (figure 8).

Figure 8. Karl Bitter, Villard monument. Detail of weary figure. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Tarrytown, N.Y. Photo: author.

I’ve uploaded figure 8 at high resolution: worth clicking on it to see the details and the texture in the picked background. Put this thing on your bucket list! It demands to be seen.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Arlington, VA

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: