Robert Tait McKenzie
Signed R Tait McKenzie and dated 1906
Inscribed Roman Bronze Works NY
Bronze with a dark green patination
Height including base: 13 3/4" (40 cm)
Conceived and cast 1906. Only 6 casts of the sculpture are recorded in the ledger books of the Roman Bronze Company Archives.
Robert Tait-McKenzie spent his life pursuing his three great passions of sport, the arts and medicine. Whilst studying at McGill University in Montreal, he won numerous prizes for his athletic and sporting abilities as well as becoming a lecturer on anatomy at the university. Mckenzie later lectured on Artistic Anatomy at the Montreal Art Association, Harvard University and for the Olympic Lecture Course at the St Louis Exhibition. In 1904 he took up the position of Professor of Physical Education and Physiotherapy at the University of Pennsylvania.
McKenzie was a member of the American Federation of Arts and in 1904 he was awarded a silver medal at the Saint Louis Exposition. In 1912 he was commissioned to create a work for the fifth modern Olympic Games held in Sweden. The piece, entitled Joy of Effort, was incorporated into the Olympic Stadium in Stockholm and Mckenzie received a royal honour from the King of Sweden for his services to athletic art. By 1915 he had been promoted to Major in the RAMC and following the war he developed pioneering new plastic surgery techniques which were used to help disfigured World War veterans.
The Supple Juggler is a particularly rare piece – the ledger books of the Roman Bronze Company Archives (NY) state that only six casts of the sculpture were ever produced. The bronze was exhibited by McKenzie in every major international exhibition: at the Royal Academy in London (1908), at the Paris Salon in 1909, at the Roman Art Exposition in Rome (1911) and at the Fine Art Society in London (1920, 1927).
The Supple Juggler depicts a young man picking up a baseball with his right hand, holding two more in his right hand. The pose is based on the ancient Scottish tradition of picking up a dirk or dagger in this manner. In 1923 Harold Eberlein wrote that ‘anyone who looks at him must be thoroughly convinced of the suppleness of his wiry muscles and of his ability to unwind his contortions like a flash of lightning to assume another posture equally as baffling.’ The present cast is in wonderful condition with a fine multi toned patina incorporating splashes of vivid bright green on a darker, greenish brown ground.
Examples of other works by McKenzie are now part of the Metropolitan Museum of New York, the National Gallery of Canada, the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.