Paul Manship's Menagerie

The Rainey Memorial Gates

The Rainey Memorial Gates, Bronx Zoo, The Bronx, New York

Revered American sculptor Paul Manship executed many important public commissions during his career. One of his most famous, aside from the Prometheus centerpiece in the plaza at Rockefeller Center, New York, is the elaborate gateway entrance to the Bronx Zoo. The grand Rainey Memorial Gates face north toward the New York Botanical Garden and welcome visitors with a plethora of animal and plant life. They were commissioned by Grace Rainey Rogers as a memorial to her brother, adventurer, sportsman, and big game hunter, Paul J. Rainey, who had died at sea in 1923. Mr. Rainey had been a generous patron of the zoo and though it may seem incongruous that an avid hunter was a zoo benefactor, it was, in fact, responsible hunters who were some of the first to notice the decline of wildlife populations and the need for their conservation.

Manship began working on the monumental project in 1926 and it took him five years to complete the design, followed by an additional two years to cast them in bronze in Belgium. A dedication ceremony was held in June 1934, with the President of the Zoological Society praising them as unrivaled in the United States as a work of art. The gates have delighted visitors ever since and serve as a visual transition from the concrete jungle surrounding the zoo to the natural world within. As a testament to both their artistic and historic importance, they were designated a New York City landmark in 1967 and were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. 

Detail of a tortoise on the Rainey Memorial Gates

The present lot, a dignified and elegant tortoise, is one of many animal sculptures by Manship that stem from his designs for the Rainey Memorial Gates. The bear motif, in particular, would go on to be used in two locations in Central Park, where Manship designed two sets of gates. Manship’s classicizing, naturalistic style is timeless, making it no surprise that his public sculptures continue to be celebrated almost one hundred years later.

Paul Manship 1885–1966

Born and raised in Minnesota, Paul Manship began his career as a painter but quickly switched to sculpture as a result of his color blindness. What was a handicap for a painter became an advantage as a sculptor; his eyes could concentrate on form over color and he developed an incredible sensitivity to line, form, and shape. After saving up enough money he moved to New York City at the age of nineteen and enrolled in the Arts Student League. While studying in New York he had his most formative experience as an artist, an apprenticeship with Solon Borglum (1868-1922) who was working on two equestrian monuments at the time. Manship worked primarily on animal figures for the master, which would go on to serve him well throughout the entirety of his career.

In 1909, Manship became the youngest sculptor to be awarded the prestigious American Prix de Rome. Three years of traveling through Italy and Greece exposed him to a wealth of ancient art and greatly influenced his developing artistic style. He returned to New York in 1912, eager to make a name for himself, and won a gold medal for his work at the San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915. After several more prosperous years in America, he moved with his family to London where he worked in artist and longtime friend John Singer Sargent’s studio in the summer of 1921. He then moved to Paris, continuing to work on important commissions in America, including the Rainey Memorial Gates at the Bronx Zoo, which were commissioned in the mid-1920s, and his famous Prometheus sculpture at Rockefeller Center in the 1930s. He was also given an important site on the main mall for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York where he created a monumental sundial set in a large reflecting pool.

Upon returning to America in the 1940s, Manship was at the pinnacle of his career and received honors from all corners of the globe: membership in the Academia Nacional de las Bellas Artes in Argentina (1944), the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris (1946), and L'Accademia di San Luca in Rome (1952). Throughout his career he was the recipient of many awards, including the French Legion of Honor (1929), the gold medal for sculpture by the National Institute of Arts (1945), and he was also elected president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1948) as well as the Century Club (1950). He continued working on public commissions throughout the 1950s and 60s, including two sets of gates for Central Park in New York City, all the while perfecting his melding of antique and modern styles into uniquely classicizing sculptures that are admired to this day.

Auction Results Paul Manship