The Clark Acquires Important Sculpture by Sir Alfred Gilbert

For Immediate Release

December 07, 2004

The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute has purchased a bronze sculpture by the English artist Sir Alfred Gilbert (1854-1934). The sculpture Comedy and Tragedy: 'Sic Vita,' modeled in 1891/2 and cast in 1902/05, was approved by the Clark's board of trustees at their meeting this past weekend. The acquisition was made possible in part by a generous donation from Jane and Raphael Bernstein.

"This bronze is one of the most celebrated works by Gilbert and an important example of the New Sculpture movement in late 19th-century England," said Michael Conforti, director of the Clark. "It beautifully extends our holdings of academic paintings and sculpture, with a classical theme reflecting the subject matter of many beloved works in our collection. There have been many benefactors who have contributed to the Clark's collection since our founding in 1955, and we are delighted to include Jane and Raph Bernstein in this group. We thank them for making this acquisition possible."

Gilbert was a leading proponent of the New Sculpture movement, which combined close observations of natural forms with the idealism of classical and Renaissance prototypes. Comedy and Tragedy depicts a young Greek stagehand who carries a mask of Comedy at the moment he is "tragically" stung by a bee. The Latin subtitle, Sic Vita, means "Thus is life."

The viewers' perception of the bronze changes dramatically depending on the angle of viewing.

"Like Gilbert's other allegorical male nudes, Comedy and Tragedy is best seen in the round," noted Richard Rand, senior curator of paintings and sculpture. "From one perspective, the boy seems to smile, echoing the expression of the Comedy mask. From another, he is clearly grimacing in pain, his own face the mask of Tragedy."

Gilbert once wrote about the sculpture, "The symbol is in fact reality. I was stung by that bee, typified by my love for my art, a consciousness of its incompleteness; my love was not sufficient."

At the same trustee meeting, the Clark also acquired the terracotta sculpture Girard le Plemeu de Brères (1884) by French artist Jean-Eugène Baffier (1851-1920). The sculpture in the romantic realist style depicts a peasant patriarch from the artist's rendition of Berrichon folktales. Baffier, who proclaimed himself a "peasant artist," expressed his fervent nationalist beliefs through his subject matter, and considered his idealized peasant to be a symbol of French supremacy.

Both works are now on view in the Clark's galleries.

The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is located at 225 South Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  The galleries are open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5p.m. Gallery admission is free through May. For more information call 413-458-2303 or visit

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