Nathan Hale

  • Sculptor: Frederick MacMonnies
  • Pedestal: Stanford White
  • Dedicated: 1890
  • Medium and size: Bronze (6.5 feet), granite pedestal (5 feet)
  • Location: Facing City Hall, at the north end of City Hall Park
  • Subway: 4, 5, 6 to Brooklyn Bridge - City Hall

Unfortunately, most people now can see Hale only by peering through the iron fence surrounding City Hall.


Frederick MacMonnies

MacMonnies was a shooting star in the American art world of the 1890s. A student of Augustus Saint Gaudens, he rocketed to fame with this sculpture of Nathan Hale and with the Bacchante and Infant Faun that was banned from Boston's Public Library. (It’s now on display in the American Wing Courtyeard of the Metropolitan Museum, along with several of MacMonnies’ other early works.) For the Columbian Exposition in 1892-1893 (see the Columbus Monument), MacMonnies designed the enormous Barge of State, which sat on a pedestal 150 feet wide. In the same decade, MacMonnies created the bronze sculptures for the great arch commemorating the Civil War that stands at the northern end of Prospect Park, Brooklyn.

Soldiers & Sailors Arch

Above: Soldiers group from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch, Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn

With sales of small-scale reproductions of his works, MacMonnies’s income in the 1890s reached $300,000 - probably $3 million in present-day dollars.

But as the twentieth century opened, MacMonnies lost his fire: Beauty and Truth on the facade of the New York Public Library are lifeless and insipid, as is the much-maligned Civic Virtue, banished from City Hall to Kew Gardens and recently transferred to the Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Civic Virtue in Queens

Above: MacMonnies, Civic Virtue, now in the Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn.

For more on MacMonnies’ career, see Dianne L. Durante’s Artist-Entrepreneurs: Saint Gaudens, MacMonnies, and Parrish, a lecture available from the Ayn Rand Bookstore.

“Invictus,” by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears 
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.

Cross References

Copyright (c) 2013 Dianne L. Durante