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.