This bronze portrait sculpture depicts poet and essayist Fitz-Greene Halleck (1790–1867). Sculpted by James Wilson Alexander MacDonald (1824–1908), the statue was dedicated in 1877, and is one of four sculptures in the vicinity that depict literary figures. The others are Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and William Shakespeare, all of which grace the southern end of Central Park’s Mall, alternately known as Literary Walk.
Born on July 8, 1790 in Guilford, Connecticut, and a descendant of Pilgrims who landed in New Haven in 1640, Halleck became an enormously popular author of Romantic verse. Among his best known works was the poem Marco Bozzaris, at one time a standard to be recited by schoolchildren. He also penned lyrics for poet Robert Burns (1759–1796), whose bronze effigy sits nearby, and an ode to poet and associate Joseph Rodman Drake (1795–1820), whose family burial plot comprises the central part of a park named for him in Hunt’s Point, Bronx.
Halleck’s renown in his day was derived also from his authorship of the satirical Croaker Papers, a humorous series published in the New York Evening Post. His literary criticism and social commentary garnered him a wide following, and for 50 years he held a prominent position in the city’s social and literary circles.
Upon his death a committee led by newspaper publisher, poet, and park proponent William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878), and General James Grant Wilson, commissioned this statue in Halleck’s honor. The sculptor, James MacDonald, was a highly regarded artist, known for portrait busts and equestrian subjects, who received numerous public commissions, including the General Custer statue at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. His portrait of Halleck depicts the poet in elegant attire, seated in an ornate Victorian armchair, pen in his right hand and parchment in his left.
The statue was dedicated on May 15, 1877. The ceremony was attended by President Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–1893), as well as his entire cabinet. The throng of spectators, estimated at 10,000, was so great on that day, and the damage to the surrounding turf so widespread, that park officials were said to have subsequently outlawed assemblies of such great size.
Over the years the sculpture has been conserved on three occasions, in 1936, 1983, and 1999. Though time may have obscured the details of this expressive bronze portrait, and its subject’s literary reputation has diminished, the statue remains a tangible reminder of an earlier era in the cultural landscape of New York.
Fitz Greene Halleck Details
- Sculptor: James Wilson Alexander MacDonald
- Description: Seated figure (over life-size) on integral plinth, on pedestal
- Materials: Bronze, Westerly granite
- Dimensions: Total H: 13'5" W: 5'5" L: 6'5"
- Cast: 1876
- Dedicated: May 15, 1877
- Donor: Public subscription .
- Inscription: 1) signed and dated: "WILSON McDONALD / SCULPTOR / 1876"
2) on pedestal: "FITZ GREENE HALLECK"
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