Just over a century after Henry Shaw installed the first sculptures at Missouri Botanical Garden in 1882, the new Milles Sculpture Garden was inaugurated in 1988 with seven works by Carl Milles. The figural pieces from the sculptor's early, middle, and late years were acquired by the Gateway Foundation for exhibition in the Garden. All are recent sand-mold casts in bronze from original models preserved at Millesgården, the sculptor's estate near Stockholm.
Four of the figures from fountain groups and another of aquatic theme are conceptually related to the famous Meeting of the Waters fountain of 1940 in Aloe Plaza, across from the St. Louis Union Station. With Milles' works elsewhere in St. Louis, as well as in Kansas City, Des Moines, and on the Champaign-Urbana campus of the University of Illinois, the Garden pieces contribute substantially to this region's representation of Milles' sculptures for urban spaces and civic fountains.
The new Milles Sculpture Garden lies in the area between the Spink Pavilion and the Climatron®. As renovated for this purpose the site generally follows the time-honored scheme of strollways past three ponds -- a circular central pool between long rectangular basins on this east-west axis -- but has been made more open.
The Milles pieces are in the three basins at elevations from near the water surface to well above it on bases and shafts of carnelian granite from Cold Springs, Minnesota. The two figures in the Spink Pavilion (east) gate are from a composition of eight that surround the towering Orpheus in the Orpheus Fountain of 1936 in front of the Stockholm Concert Hall. The third sculpture in this basin is Sunglitter of 1918, a sea nymph with hair streaming in the wind, astride an onrushing dolphin. It was done for the Millesgården.
Three angels with musical instruments, seeming to hover above their tall supporting shafts in the center basin, are from an ensemble of five that Milles placed on a Millesgården terrace and employed in other casts for American commissions. Angel Musician with Pan-pipe became the uppermost element in the Fountain of Faith at Falls Church, Virginia, and Angel Musician with Flute was given similar prominence in the Kansas City fountain, St. Martin of Tours, The William Volker Memorial. Another cast of the Garden's Angel Musician with Horn was installed in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park with the two others from the Millesgården set.
In the Climatron® pool the figures in Two Girls Dancing of 1914-17 share the same base. This is the earliest work in the Garden's ensemble. The first cast is in the Millesgården.
All these represent the sculptor's responses to diverse challenges over many years. The creative incentives of each project were met with verve from the Milles vocabulary of Nordic imagery and classical legend, and imbued with fantasy, touches of humor, and his own vigorous sense of style. Milles never permitted any actors in his large groups to become lost in the crowd, and his emphasis on individual characterization is evident here.
The St. Louis association with this sculptor goes back a long way. The first comprehensive American exhibition of sculptures by Carl Milles was presented at the Art Museum in 1931. The 44 full-scale pieces, small reproductions and models displayed there, and the admiration of his art that they engendered, led to his commission for the St. Louis fountain. Full-size bronzes of Two Girls Dancing and Sunglitter were in the show, as was his equestrian Folke Filbyter (1927), which the Museum purchased.
Milles was born in 1875 near Uppsala, Sweden. His baptismal name was Carl Emil Wilhelm Andersson, "Milles" having been adopted by his father from an army nickname. Carl showed little promise in school and was apprenticed to a cabinetmaker. His aptitude for sculpture came to light in evening classes, and he won a scholarship at the Technical School in Stockholm.
He was offered a job in Chile, but made an en route stop in Paris, remained there, and worked as a coffin-maker and at other jobs while attending lectures at the Sorbonne. He was admitted to the 1899 Salon and later worked in the studio of Aguste Rodin, whose influence on Milles' early work has been noted by critics in Two Girls Dancing. During years of disheartening setbacks and of exertion to move away from a Rodinesque manner, he arrived at his statement of simplified forms in expressive movement.
Following the St. Louis exhibition he became sculptor-in-residence at the Cranbrook Academy of Art at Blomfield Hills, Michigan, and in his studio there produced the Orpheus Fountain and others of his major late commissions. Early in his career Milles and his Austrian wife, Olga, a painter, began work in the villa and terraced landscape that became Millesgården, the repository of his sculptures and models, and of antique art that he collected. The Swedish government purchased the art as an intact collection. Late in life, he gave the Millesgården grounds and buildings to his native country.
Milles died in his garden in 1955. His last major work is the fountain on the grounds of the Nelson-Atkins Gallery, Kansas City, St. Martin of Tours, The William Volker Memorial, of 1950-58. He had completed the design at the time of his death, and casting was supervised by his associates.