Anniston’s Berman Museum is best known for its extensive collection of weaponry, forged in iron and steel, collected by the late Farley Berman. But Germaine Berman, Farley’s wife, had a passion for metal put to a different purpose.
Germaine’s collection of bronze sculptures are in the spotlight for the Berman’s newest exhibit. “Polished Portraits: The Bronzes of Germaine Berman” will be on display through the fall.
Germaine Berman collected thousands of artworks over her lifetime, including some 1,200 bronzes. Her collection included works by Rodin (the French sculptor behind “The Thinker”), Renoir (one of the leading Impressionist painters), and Remington and Russell, the two greatest artists of the American West.
Most of the bronzes have been in storage in the museum basement for years. “Some of these have never been displayed. Some of them had never even been cleaned in the 20 years we’ve had them,” said Sabra Gossett, registrar of the Berman and organizer of the exhibit.
The exhibit includes 32 bronzes in a second-floor gallery, plus another 15 in the museum lobby. That’s in addition to the Remingtons and Russells on permanent display in the Western gallery.
“This exhibit is about 1/64th of what we have,” Gossett said.
Germaine Berman died in Anniston in 1993 at the age of 84. She grew up in Paris during World War I. “She saw that they would melt down bronze sculptures for weapons, and it broke her heart,” Gossett said.
During World War II, Germaine worked as a spy for France — which is how she met another spy working for the Allies, a man named Farley Berman. The rest became history.
After the war, the Bermans set out to collect things. Farley focused on weapons. Germaine focused on art. And she wanted to preserve as many European bronzes as possible.
The exhibit opens with a selection of small bronze figures depicting Roman and Elizabethan warriors (you might say this is a point where Farley and Germaine’s interests overlap).
In a corner stands a bronze sculpture called “Hercules Wielding the Club.” It is a small-scale reproduction of a much larger statue by an artist known as Giambologna (1529-1608), an influential sculptor during the Renaissance era.
In the 18th century, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, it became possible to make multiple copies of bronze sculptures, and foundries sprang up in Paris. Artists came from all over the world to cast sculptures. It was (if you’ll pardon the metallugically mixed metaphor) the Golden Age of Bronze.
Two of the most important pieces in the Berman exhibit are by Auguste Rodin, who is considered the father of modern sculpture. “The Kiss” and “Eternal Springtime” each depict a nude couple locked in passionate embrace — which was controversial at the time.
“The Kiss” began life in 1882 as a large marble sculpture. A smaller bronze version was sent to the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, where it was considered too erotic for public display.
All told, several hundred bronze casts were made of “The Kiss.” This bronze cast used to sit in the Bermans’ living room.
Another major piece in the exhibit is “The Little Blacksmith” (1916) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The texture of the bronze echoes the heavy brushstrokes typical of Renoir’s Impressionist paintings.
The most charming pieces in the Berman exhibit are several miniature animal bronzes made in the early 1800s by Antoine Louis Barye, a leader of the French Animalier school of artists who wanted to depict animals more realistically. These were supposedly Germaine’s favorite pieces in all of her collection.
Also on display are several bronze pieces called “reductions.” In 1836, a French engineer named Achille Collas invented a machine by which a sculpture could be precisely copied and either enlarged or miniaturized. Soon, tiny bronze replicas of famous marble statues became all the rage. Among the pieces on display are a tiny Venus de Milo and a miniaturized version of the great lion that sits in front of the Louvre.
To close the exhibit, Gossett wanted to bring in bronzes of the modern day. She arranged for sculptures by five regional artists to be displayed on a rotating basis.
The first one is by Mississippi artist Gregory Edmond Moran. It’s called “Windward Leeboard” and was made specially for this exhibit.
“He used the lost wax method,” Gossett said. “It’s changed little in 5,000 years.”
Lisa Davis is features editor of The Anniston Star. Contact her at 256-235-3555 or firstname.lastname@example.org.