This elegant bronze statue is the work of British sculptor George Blackall Simonds (1844-1929). Born in Reading, England, Simonds's family had a partnership in the prosperous brewery, Simonds and Courage. He attended Saint Andrew's College (later Bradfield College), and, demonstrating early promise as a sculptor, studied art in Dresden, Germany, and Brussels, Belgium, before residing for 12 years in Rome, Italy.
While in Italy, Simonds learned much about the tradition of lost-wax bronze casting. He later published a series of articles on this subject in the journal, America, in which pushed for the use of lost-wax casting in Great Britain. Simonds's The Falconer statue, cast by Clemente Papi (1802-1875), a founder in Florence, Italy, weds several of his interests. The statue depicts a young falconer in Elizabethan garb, holding aloft a falcon poised for release. It is installed on a cylindrical granite pedestal perched on a natural rock outcropping south of the 72nd Street transverse road, and east of the park's West Drive.
Simonds himself was an avid falconer, and was later depicted with a falcon in an official portrait made of him as chairman of the family brewery by Sir Oswald Brimley. The original sculpture of The Falconer was created for Trieste, Italy, and was shown at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1875. It appears that George Kemp (1826-1893), a wealthy merchant born in Ireland, who later lived in New York City, admired the sculpture so much that he commissioned a full-scale replica for Central Park, where it was dedicated on May 31, 1875.
Following his success with The Falconer, Simonds married American Gertrude Prescott, whom he had met in Rome, and settled at his mother's ancestral home, Bradfield House. They had a son, George Prescott, in 1881, who was killed in France during World War I. In 1884, Simonds helped found the Art Workers Guild in London, a group of young architects and artists inspired by John Ruskin (1819-1900) and William Morris (1834-1896) to create a unified forum for architects, artists, and craftsmen. Simonds said of the guild, "…it differs from all Art Societies in that it is not formed for the propagation of any one branch, or style, of Art…I find something of the spirit of the Studio Life of Rome."
Simonds also triumphed with a monumental lion sculpture he created in 1886 for the Forbury Gardens in Reading, England. It was commissioned by the County Regiment as a memorial to the Berkshire men who had died in the Battle of Maiwand in the Afghan War of 1880. Also during this time, Simonds sculpted an image of Queen Victoria for her Golden Jubilee of 1887, which stands outside Reading Town Hall, and a portrait of industrialist and biscuit king George Palmer, for the local Palmer Park.
Upon the death of his elder brother, Blackall, in 1905, Simonds was willed his name, which he adopted for posterity. As his career as an artist waned he assumed an increasing role in his family's brewery business, and was named its chairman in 1910, a position he held until his death in 1929.
A second casting of The Falconer stands today in Lynch Park in Beverly, Massachusetts, reportedly a gift of Robert Evans, a Beverly native who had admired the sculpture while convalescing in a hospital near Central Park, and subsequently received permission to make a bronze replica.
Since its installation, The Falconer has suffered extensive damage from weathering and vandals. The monument was in danger of toppling in 1937 until it was shored up and repatined by Parks. In 1957, a new bronze falcon was fashioned and reattached. Further vandalism later compelled the City to remove the sculpture to storage for safekeeping, and in 1982, a new arm and falcon were modeled, cast, and reattached, and the statue reset in Central Park. In 1995, the Central Park Conservancy conserved and repatined the statue, and today the sculpture embodies the rich sculptural collection Central Park inherited in the 19th century, as well as the abundant bird species, including peregrine falcons and red-tailed hawks, which populate the park.
The Falconer Details
- Sculptor: George Blackwell Simonds
- Description: Standing figure (over life-size) holding bird aloft on integral plinth, on pedestal
- Materials: Bronze, Barre granite (polished)
- Dimensions: Figure H: 12' W: 2'6" D: 3'10"; Pedestal H: 4'7" W: 3'6" D: 4'5"
- Cast: 1871
- Dedicated: May 31, 1875
- Foundry: Chevalier Clemente Pape, Florence, Italy
- Donor: George Kemp
- Inscription: Pedestal:
THE FALCONER / PRESENTED BY GEORGE KEMP / MDCCCLXXII
GEORGE SIMONDS ROMAE / MDCCCLXXI
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