Frederick William MacMonnies (American, 1863–1937)
29 3/4 x 23 1/2 x 13 3/4 in. (75.6 x 59.7 x 34.9 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1922 (22.61)
American Beaux-Arts sculpture reached its most baroque phase in the work of Frederick MacMonnies. His best groups are animated with an exuberance that owes more to his affinity for contemporary sculpture in France, where he spent his mature years, than to his apprenticeship with the American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Modeled in Paris, the appealing Boy and Duck is a lively interpretation of a chubby toddler grasping a squirming prize. His head tossed back and mouth open in a grin, the boy delights in his captured prize. As the mother duck flaps her wings and cries in distress, three ducklings encircling the Sienna marble base gaze up at the chaotic scene. The visual evocation of noise and confusion is accentuated by the dimensionality of the composition: limbs and wings, feathers and hair, human feet and webbed feet thrust in all directions.
The theme of a nude boy struggling with a feisty animal extends back to the ancient art that MacMonnies so admired when he visited Italy in 1894. The tradition was recapitulated and reinvented in Italian Renaissance art, for example in works by Andrea del Verrocchio, and further in nineteenth-century French art. MacMonnies presented the first cast of this fountain figure as a gift to his native city of Brooklyn, New York, for a waterlily pool in the Vale of Cashmere in Prospect Park.