This magical and magnificent bronze fountain by the Swedish-American sculptor Carl Milles was a of the highlights of our April auction of Decorative Arts: Design since 1860 in Edinburgh. Spirited bidding took the final selling price to £158,500, nearly triple the estimate. Head of sale, John Mackie, takes a closer look at the piece below.
Considered Sweden's foremost sculptor of the 20th century, Milles produced some of the most popular and enduring bronze works of his era. Born in 1875, he trained in woodworking, cabinetmaking, carving and modelling as a young man. In 1897 he made what he thought would be a temporary stop in Paris on his way to South America, however he decided to stay and study art, developing his reputation as a sculptor. His early pieces display the influence of Auguste Rodin, for whom he worked occasionally until 1904 when he left Paris for Munich. After travelling through Europe he settled near Stockholm where, in 1917, seeking a more individual style, he destroyed all the works in his studio and began a period of rapid stylistic development and a formation of his mature style, where elegance, motion, and gesture predominated.
Solglitter, literally Sun Glitter, was sculpted in 1917 when Milles was 42. It is said to have been one of the artists enduring favourites and is one of several works he made around this time that herald the beginning of this mature style. Ancient Greek, Roman and Christian mythology as well as Swedish history were often his sources of inspiration.
Carl Milles (Swedish 1875-1955) | Solglitter (Naiad riding a dolphin), circa 1917 (detail) | Sold for £158,500 (inc buyer's premium)
The sculpture depicts a Naiad or water spirit riding a dolphin. In Greek mythology Naiads presided over fountains, wells, springs and other bodies of fresh water. Here we see the spirit emerging from the deep for a brief moment, before she disappears again into the mythological underworld, her beautifully detailed wild locks flowing behind her. The figure seems to defy gravity and Milles has perfectly captured the power and movement of the figure, confidently riding the waves and reflecting the rhythmic and expressive aesthetic for which he would become famous. He enjoyed sculpting in heavy materials such as granite and bronze, pairing them with lighter materials such as water and air by placing them in fountains or raising them up in the air so that they interacted with the sky.
Carl Milles in his studio at Cranbrook Academy of Art | Photographer Richard G. Askew, Copyright Cranbrook Archives
Milles went on to have a spectacular career in the United States where he moved in 1931 after accepting a position as sculptor in residence at the Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum in Detroit, Michigan. Several of his often immense statues and fountains were commissioned at a time when many cities were expanding and modernising, and can now be found in institutions and public spaces across the United States and Europe.
This example of Solglitter is in lovely original condition with the surface showing a soft green patination, perfectly complementing its watery subject. The sculpture has been in the same Scottish collection since it was purchased in 1927, and its relatively small size is quite unusual for Milles’ normally monumental output. Other examples can be found at Milles’ home, the Millesgården near Stockholm, the courtyard of the Swedish Institute in Rome and at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Decorative Arts: Design since 1860 | 06 April 2016 | Edinburgh
John Mackie | 0131 557 8844 | firstname.lastname@example.org