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« Memorializing Defeats | Main | Alive and Living in Argentina »

September 27, 2009

Are Sculptors Long-Lived?

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Inspired by the self-glorification of certain political personages in Washington, D.C. and some of the manifestations of adoration undertaken by followers, I've been doing some reading about art in 20th century totalitarian countries. A book I just finished is Peter Adam's 1992 Art of the Third Reich. His chapter on German sculptors active in the 1930s caught my attention because of the life-dates he cited for them and a few others whose work influenced them. They are listed below with the approximate age at death in square brackets.

(Ages at death are based on subtracting the birth year from the death year. That means some of the cases are overstated by one year. I did this for consistency because I wasn't sure I could easily track down life dates for all the Germans. In any event, the picture presented isn't seriously affected by my shortcut.)

  • Georg Kolbe (1877-1947) [70]
  • Karl Albiker (1878-1961) [83]
  • Arno Breker (1900-1991) [91]
  • Josef Thorak (1889-1952) [63]
  • Adolf Wamper (1901-1977) [76]
  • Kurt Schmid-Elmen (1901-1968) [67]
  • Rudolf Belling (1886-1972) [86]
  • Ernst Barlach (1876-1938) [62]
  • Wilhelm Lehmbruck (1881-1919) [38]
  • Fritz Klimsch (1870-1960) [90]
  • Richard Scheibe (1879-1964) [85]
  • Josef Wackerie (1880-1959) [79]
  • Bernhard Bleeker (1881-1968) [87]
  • Arnold Waldschmidt (1873-1958) [85]

To spice things up, I'll add a few sculptors whose names are familiar to me:

  • Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) [77]
  • Aristide Maillol (1861-1944) [83]
  • Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) [81]
  • Lorado Taft (1860-1936) [76]
  • Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) [59]
  • Paul Manship (1885-1966) [81]
  • Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) [81]
  • Alexander Calder (1898-1976) [78]
  • Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) [65]

Seven of the 14 German sculptors lived 80 or more years and so did four of the other nine. The only sculptor following the Caravaggio, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh pattern of dying before age 40 was Lehmbruck.

What we have here is nothing more than a factoid, something true so far as it goes. A thorough study of the longevity of sculptors would be grist for, say, a Masters thesis. For example, a universe of sculptors would have to be defined in some measurable way. A basis age would have to be selected so that comparisons with populations at large using mechanisms such as life tables could be made. And so forth.

Just for fun, I'll draw a few "conclusions" from the flimsy data shown above. Sculpting didn't seem to be a life-threatening occupation in late-19th century and early-mid 20th century Germany. You'd think that with all the dust, sharp tools, hot metal and the rest of the studio scene, that sculptors could cop an early disability retirement. But apparently not. The non-German group seems to have a somewhat more normal mortality pattern, though the proportion living to 80 is nearly as great.



posted by Donald at September 27, 2009


For sculptors, note also Michelangelo 88; Bernini 81; Donatello 80; and Giambologna 79.

Admittedly, those are the most famous ones, and a quick and cursory search through wikipedia yields plenty of shorter lived (and shorter reputationed) Renaissance sculptors who didn't crack 70.

Posted by: symeon on September 27, 2009 10:16 PM

The same I have heard said about orchestra conductors.
Something about the upper-body workout and aerobics for stamina. Or is just being around creativity and beauty?

Posted by: FF on September 28, 2009 3:50 AM

There could be a selection bias in this analysis.

The sculptors who have achieved a certain level of name recognition, in their lifetime at least, may have higher income than regular crafts people, which could affect their life expectancy. In other words, the longevity of these people may be attributed to their fame rather than their profession.

Posted by: Pupu on September 28, 2009 2:37 PM

At least once one gets to the later 19th and 20th centuries, a master sculptor needn't have been exposed to much hazardous in the workplace. Most all of the hard work would have been done by assistants -- or completely subcontracted, as was the case with many sculptors who modeled their designs, then had the marble versions carved by anonymous specialists in Italy.

Posted by: David at Cronaca on September 30, 2009 10:54 PM

The same I have heard said about orchestra conductors.

Posted by: jar games on October 1, 2009 6:33 PM

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