This bronze portrait bust depicts the German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832). Goethe’s best-known works include The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) and the dramatic poem Faust (1808, 1832). In addition to writing these pivotal works of fiction, Goethe had a diverse range of interests and skills. From practicing law and studying the classics to drawing, painting, and acting as director of court theaters, Goethe applied his belief in the energetic, artistic individual to all aspects of his life.
Born to intellectual, bourgeois parents in Frankfurt am Main, Goethe enjoyed a comfortable childhood and broad education. He began to study law at age 16, attending the prestigious Leipzig University. Though he practiced law for several years in Frankfurt and Wetzlar, it was the 1774 publication of The Sorrows of Young Werther that brought Goethe’s talent to the spotlight. The novel’s protagonist, Werther, is viewed as one of the first “romantic heroes,” a title he earns by committing suicide after being scorned by his married lover.
Following the success of his published fiction, Goethe was at leisure to pursue some of his varied interests. He served as a member of the court, traveled to Italy, wrote for academic journals, and pursued a love interest in Christiane Vulpius. It was not until he published the first section of Faust in 1808 that Goethe again devoted a major part of his attention to writing. The second part of this masterwork appeared in 1832, just before his death on March 22 in Weimar. He is buried with fellow scholar Friedrich von Schiller in a mausoleum in the ducal cemetery.
This monument is a bronze replica of an iron and copper piece by German sculptor Karl Fischer (1802–1865) from around 1832. The Goethe Society of America acquired it in 1876 and displayed it at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until 1932, when it was moved to Bryant Park. The fragile artwork was replaced with a more durable bronze casting following its installation at the park. The sculpture was refurbished in 1992 as part of the overall improvements to the park completed by the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Details
- Location: Sixth Ave at 40th Street
- Sculptor: Karl Fischer
- Description: Bust on pedestal
- Materials: Bronze, Swedish black granite
- Dimensions: Overall H: 9'5 ½" W: 1'5 ½" D: 1'1"
- Cast: circa 1932
- Dedicated: February 15, 1932
- Fabricator: Victor Frisch (pedestal)
- Donor: Goethe Society of America
- Inscription: GOETHE / 1749-1832 /---/ ERECTED 1932 / BY THE / GOETHE SOCIETY / OF