Artist
Robert Ingersoll Aitken
sculptor

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Robert Ingersoll Aitken
sculptor
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Date of Birth

1878

Date of Death

1949

More about Robert Ingersoll Aitken

cschuster's picture

Sr. Contributor

Robert Ingersoll Aitken is one of the most famous artists and thinkers of the first half of the 20th century, he's largely remembered now for telling modern art to get off America's lawn.

A San Francisco native who opened his own studio in the city at a precocious 18-years old. While the old-gray-balls version of Robert accredited his success to independent study, he learnt much from his education at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art which later became the San Francisco Art Institute. He moved on to Paris for a while, but believed the sensibilities of the French were harmful for a blue-blooded, able-bodied American. The Paris Salon even accepted one of his works, but that's just so French of them, isn't it? After France, he settled in NYC and taught at the National Academy of Design.

After that, it was raining accolades. His resume read like a greatest hits of American sculpture and arts organizations. He was Vice President of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Eventually, he was elected president of the National Sculpture Society. He designed a host of coins and medals along the way. Hell, he designed the award he eventually received from the National Academy, AKA the Watrous Gold Medal. And with all that on his plate, he threw in distinguished service as a World War I infantry captain to boot.

As such, for a time he was America's wise old owl when it came to art. The country viewed Aitken as the kindly old man that had an answer for everything when it came to creativity and expression. Too bad he was a closed-minded old fart. A hardline artistic conservative with an unapologetically anti-modern viewpoint, 

As one of America's most famed artists, no less body than the US government called him to court to testify what 'art' meant. It was all over money. Marcel Duchamp had tried to escort pieces by Constantin Brancusi into the US to show at a gallery. The customs officials didn't understand why one piece called Bird in Space didn't have a bird present. Or, at least, anything they could identify as a bird worth shooting in the woods #truestory. So, they charged Brancusi the higher tariff applied to metal works that weren't art. Brancusi sued the US government and the government called Aitken to explain art to the court. In so many words, he said that he'd never seen any of Brancusi's art because Brancusi didn't make any. Harsh, dude.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Robert Ingersoll Aitken

Robert Ingersoll Aitken (May 8, 1878 – January 3, 1949) was an American sculptor. Perhaps his most famous work is the West Pediment of the United States Supreme Court building.

Life and career

Born in San Francisco, California, Aitken studied there at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art [also called the California School of Design – now the San Francisco Art Institute] with Douglas Tilden. From 1901 until 1904 he was an instructor at the Institute.

During this period, Aitken in 1900 designed San Francisco's original municipal flag; the design was in use from 1900 until sometime in the early to mid 1930s.

In 1903, he sculpted the Victory figure for the top of the Dewey Monument, which still stands in San Francisco's Union Square.

In 1904, Aitken moved to Paris where he continued his studies. He returned to New York City after his sojourn in Paris and was employed as an instructor at the Art Students League. Eleanor Mary Mellon was among his pupils.

His works include the Science fountain and Great Rivers statues at the Missouri State Capitol, the "Iron Mike" statue at Parris Island, South Carolina, several military sculptures at West Point and the Temple of Music, and sculptural works for the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri. Aitken also produced the "Fountain of Earth" for San Francisco's Panama Pacific Exposition.

Perhaps his most famous work is the West Pediment of the United States Supreme Court building, which bears the inscription "Equal Justice Under Law". The sculpture, above the entrance to the Supreme Court Building, is of nine figures—Lady Liberty surrounded by figures representing Order, Authority, Council, and Research. These allegorical figures were in fact sculptures of real people who had a role in the creation of the building. Aitken himself is depicted in the pediment, seated to the proper left of Liberty with Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes. Many of his works were carved by the Piccirilli Brothers, including the pieces for the National Archives Building.

Aitken created a stir when he criticized the display and placement of the Venus de Milo. His work was also part of the sculpture event in the art competition at the 1928 Summer Olympics.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Robert Ingersoll Aitken.