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William Couper (1853–1942)

Morning and Evening

APG 8758.001–002


WILLIAM COUPER (1853–1942), "Morning," 1882. Marble relief, 19 in. diameter; and "Evening," about 1876. Marble relief, 19 in. diameter.
WILLIAM COUPER (1853–1942), "Morning," 1882. Marble relief, 19 in. diameter.
WILLIAM COUPER (1853–1942), "Evening," about 1876. Marble relief, 19 in. diameter


WILLIAM COUPER (1853–1942)

Morning, 1882
Marble relief, 19 in. diameter
Signed and inscribed (at lower left): Wm. Couper. Florence. It. 

Evening, about 1876
Marble relief, 19 in. diameter
Signed and inscribed (at lower left): Wm. Couper. Florence. It. 

RECORDED: Evening: Thomas Ball, My Threescore Years and Ten (1891), pp. 295–96 // Greta Elena Couper, An American Sculptor on the Grand Tour: The Life and Works of William Couper, 1853–1942 (1988), Morning: p. 75, fig. 57 illus. following p. 86; Evening: pp. 25, 30, 75, fig. 58 illus. following page 86 // Morning and Evening: Barbara Clark, “Imps and angels convene at Cahoon Museum,” The Barnstable Patriot, November 15, 2012 

EXHIBITED: Cahoon Museum of American Art, Cotuit, Massachusetts, November 6–December 30, 2012, Cherubs: From Imps to Angels, n.n.

EX COLL.: private collection, until 2008

Morning and Evening are early marble reliefs from Couper’s career, when he worked in the Neo-Classical style favored by American sculptors in Florence. Though Greta Elena Couper, the sculptor’s great granddaughter and biographer, dates Evening to 1878, she relates an anecdote about the work that convincingly supports a modeling date two years earlier, in 1876. (Greta Couper had access to family recollections and papers for her work and remains the principal source for this artist. Page references in the following discussion refer to Couper’s biographical study of her great grandfather, unless otherwise indicated.) An old friend and former fellow student was practicing medicine in the American colony in Rome and came to Florence to visit Couper: 

In September 1876, [John McKowen] came to Florence for a visit. He took a special interest in Couper, with whom he shared a Southern heritage. This visit was pivotal to Couper’s professional and personal life, because it came at a time when his circumstances were about to change in a profound manner that would affect his career prospects and future. Couper had hoped to study with either Signor Rossi or Thomas Ball, but Ball was currently on vacation in America, and Rossi was not ready to begin instruction. McKowen was surprised to learn that Couper, perhaps discouraged, was planning to return to America, and emphatically convinced him to stay longer. He arranged to buy a copy of Couper’s relief Evening, giving the young sculptor a needed financial assist and allowing him to postpone the departure for home.

One day after his return, Thomas Ball stopped to pay Couper a visit. He was impressed with his progress and models, especially the medallion called Evening, and invited him to share his studio.

Thomas Ball (1819–1911) corroborates the earlier date (although details are unclear as to whether this was 1876 or 1877) in an anecdote in his autobiography, My Threescore Years and Ten (1891):

Two years earlier [about 1877] there came along a young Virginian from Munich, where he had been studying drawing in the Academy. He took a little room just outside of the Porta Romana, and began modeling by himself, alone. I heard of him, called on him, and saw the first thing he did,—a medallion he called “Evening.” I thought to myself, “If that is his first work, he certainly shows remarkable talent.” I at once invited him to come to my studio and occupy a little room.... He was delighted to accept my invitation, and speedily made himself most agreeable.

By the time that Couper modeled Morning, six years later in 1882, he was Thomas Ball’s son-in-law.

These allegorical representations of Morning and Evening (sometimes called “Dawn” and “Dusk”), fall into a category of works that were a staple of genteel art practice in the 19th century, in sculpture as well as painting. These generally included an idealized figure and some representation of cloud formations. William Gerdts, in American Neo-Classic Sculpture (1973) labels this subject category “Day and Night,” citing Chauncy Ives, Randolph Rogers, Erastus Dow Palmer, and William Henry Rinehart among the Americans who produced variations on the theme. Gerdts writes: “The sources for these paired reliefs can be found in the figures of Night and Morning by the great patriarch of neoclassic sculpture, Bertel Thorvaldsen. These were probably the most famous relief sculptures of the nineteenth century, and reproductions and engravings after them found their way into many American homes.”

Couper’s Morning and Evening represent the celestial beings as children. In 1876, this would have been a safe choice for a young artist, perhaps wary of launching a career with adult nudes. As was the custom, patrons visited the studios of sculptors and ordered replicas of works they saw. In addition to selling from his studio, however, Couper also sold Morning and Evening through Tiffany and Company in New York.

Couper describes Evening as depicting “a young figure standing over clouds, clasping a new moon. A drapery covers the child’s head.” Morning shows “the drapery being lifted away to the rays of sunshine.

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