Madison Square Park
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Chester Alan Arthur
Dedicated on June 13, 1899, this monumental bronze portrait of Chester Alan Arthur (1830-1886), the 21st United States President, is by sculptor George Edwin Bissell (1839-1920).
Arthur was born in Fairfield, Vermont on October 5, 1830, the son of Reverend William Arthur and Malvina Stone. After college, he studied law briefly, and then served in 1851 as principal of an academy at North Pownal, Vermont (where James Garfield, the 20th president taught penmanship the following year).
In 1853, Arthur moved to New York City, and practiced law. A staunch abolitionist, Arthur gained recognition for taking on civil rights cases, including one in 1854 in which he successfully defended the right of Elizabeth Jennings — an African American teacher — to travel by streetcar, paving the way for desegregation of the City’s passenger railroads. At this time, he became active in the newly formed Republican Party. During the Civil War, he served the Union as inspector-general and then quartermaster, in charge of providing equipment, clothing, and supplies to those troops in New York.
In 1871, Arthur was appointed customs collector of the Port of New York, a position of enormous influence. However, faced with corruption charges, he left office in 1878, under pressure from President Rutherford B. Hayes, an action which angered New York state Republicans led by Senator Roscoe Conkling. They were mollified by the selection of Arthur as the vice-presidential candidate on the successful ticket with James A. Garfield in 1880. Upon Garfield’s assassination in 1881, Arthur assumed the presidency, and was the first president since George Washington to take the oath of office in New York City. Arthur’s administration was considered to be honest and efficient. He successfully supported the Civil Service Reform Act of 1883, and vetoed a more restrictive version of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 before reluctantly signing a modified bill to appease Congress. Failing in 1884 to be re-nominated for president, Arthur returned to New York City, and died on November 18, 1886.
This statue was commissioned by the friends of Arthur at a cost of $25,000. The ornamental base of polished black Barre granite was designed by James Brown Lord. The sculpture depicts Arthur standing in a frock coat before an armchair, draped with a rug, and embossed on the back with the presidential seal. Bissell, who studied art in Paris, Rome and Florence, was a prolific sculptor, and operated a marble business in Poughkeepsie, New York. He also sculpted the portrait of mayor Abraham de Peyster, formerly in Bowling Green Park, and now in Hanover Square in lower Manhattan. The Arthur sculpture was repatined by the city monuments crew in 1968, and was conserved again in 1986-87. Sculptures of Arthur’s contemporaries, Roscoe Conkling (1893) and Secretary of State William Seward (1876) may be found at the southeast and southwest corners respectively of Madison Square Park, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ fine effigy of Admiral Farragut (1881) stands vigilant on the northern side of the park’s central axis.
Chester Alan Arthur Details
- Location: Near northeast entrance, Madison Avenue and East 26th Street
- Sculptor: George Edwin Bissell
- Architect: James Brown Lord
- Description: Standing figure (heroic scale) on integral plinth on pedestal
- Materials: Bronze, Barre granite (polished)
- Dimensions: Total H: 15'2"; Figure and integral plinth H: 9' W: 3'9" D: 5'4" ; Pedestal H: 9' W: 4'9" D: 6'4" (all approximate)
- Cast: 1898
- Dedicated: June 13, 1899
- Foundry: The Henry-Bonnard Bronze Company, New York
- Donor: Friends of Chester Alan Arthur
- Inscription: 1a) Integral plinth, front: [signed] GEO. E. BISSELL / SCULPTOR 1898 /
1b) Integral plinth, rear: THE HENRY-BONNARD BRONZE CO. / FOUNDERS. NEW YORK. /
2a) Pedestal, front: CHESTER ALAN / ARTHUR / TWENTY-FIRST PRESIDENT / OF / THE UNITED STATES / OF AMERICA /
2b) Pedestal: JAMES BROWN LORD / ARCHITECT /
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