Bust of R. Tait McKenzie
Bust of R. Tait McKenzie, 1938, Bronze
Joseph Brown (American, 1909 – 1985)
This bust of the late artist and academic, R. Tait McKenzie, was created as a lasting tribute to the scholar in 1938, the year of his death. The author, Joseph “Joe” Brown, stands out as McKenzie’s most famous apprentice - a boxer-turned artist who was discovered by McKenzie while working as a studio model at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Out of curiosity as well as frustration at the lack of detail in the works of the students, Brown tried his hands at working on clay. The result was a set of three pieces (a boxer, his brother, and a dancer) presented at the Pennsylvania Academy Annual Exhibition as well as a lifelong career in the arts. In this setting, McKenzie is said to have confronted the young model and called his work “a shame…because these things are so good, it is a shame they are not better”; from here on, Brown spent seven years as McKenzie’s apprentice, until the death of his mentor. Only after the death of his mentor did Brown venture out to create a career not unlike McKenzie’s: that year, Brown started in work in Princeton University as a boxing coach, only to soon become a scholar on fine arts and sports alike.
Despite the professional similarities, stylistically, Brown differed from his predecessor’s reliance on intricate designs based on anatomical research by instead drawing from his own experience as a boxer. With the time he spent in the ring as template, the artist imbued his subjects with the fatigue, effort, and pain that marked winners and losers alike as soon as they stepped out of the arena.
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