This rare parcel-gilt bronze of Atalanta, the mythological heroine who races against her unwanted suitors, is typical of Paul Manship’s masterly rendering of classical subjects in a modern and elegant manner. Manship, best known for the Prometheus Fountain at Rockefeller Center focused on traditional subjects—ancient myths, biblical subjects and Native American lore with a contemporary (for early 20th century taste) vision—which is now defined as Art Deco.
Atalanta was a mythological heroine and follower of Artemis (Diana). Her athletic exploits as the sole woman wrestling in games, sailing (with the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece) and hunting (as a member of the Calydonian Boar Hunt) are celebrated in lore and classical art. But she is most often represented as a runner in the footrace that her father organized with the intention that she wed the winner (those who lost were killed). Atalanta was unwilling to marry, so she agreed to the race knowing her agility and speed would not be matched by her suitors. However Hippomenes – who she actually favored – tricked her with the aid of Venus, by dropping three golden apples along the course. This distraction slowed her down and allowed him to win the race.
In this work the sculptor employs his depth of knowledge and interest in classical iconography as he showcases his ability to indicate both motion and elegance and produce an exquisitely detailed and finished bronze. This work was conceived in 1921 in London when the young sculptor was working from the studio of his friend and mentor John Singer Sargent. By 1922, Manship had moved his family to Paris.
In 1927, Paul Vitry wrote that only 6 casts were made (and probably factored in France). Manship was adamant about supervising the foundry process which was noted in his letters from France to his dealer in New York in 1922. By 1957 (when Manship had long returned to the United States), Edwin Murtha noted that a total of 15 casts were made. Of these the majority were made at Roman Bronze Works in New York and feature monochromatic patination.
Four examples of Atalanta are in museums: National Gallery, DC, Smithsonian American Art Museum, DC, The McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX, and the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (cast by Alexis Rudier with similar parcel-gilt patination).