Richard W. Bock- First Encounters with Frank Lloyd Wright & Louis Sullivan

The sculptors of the monuments on the Civil War battlefields were often well noted artists at the turn of the 20th century. Richard W. Bock, a name fogotten today, was well noted in the early 19th century. If you enjoy architecture, particularly Frank Llyod Wright then you have seen his work without realizing it.

As a young, confident man Bock left Chicago for New York. Friends convinced him he could learn nothing more in Chicago and New York was the place to go.  In the mid-1880s, many sculptors found work carving art and architectural detailing on the Vanderbilt mansion on 5th avenue.  This appears to be Bock’s first work in architectural details and art.  After a year working in New York, Bock saved enough money to travel to Europe to study art. Unlike many artists of the time, he chose Berlin rather than Paris for schooling. After his studies in Germany he enrolled at the Ecole De Beaux Arts in Paris.

The work on the Vanderbilt mansion would be his first taste of architectural art. It would not be his last. In 1891, after returning to Chicago, a colleague of Bock’s told him about a the construction of the Shiller Theater building and recommend that he meet with the building president and then with architect Louis Sullivan. Sullivan reviewed Bock’s work and then sent him to the drafting room to meet with Mr. Frank Lloyd Wright.

Bock created two low relief panels that flanked either side of the stage. One represented Homer reading his versus, the other represented Shiller riding a pegasus led by a a Genius holding a torch and guiding the way.  Along the spandrel he sculpted Beauty and Strength on one side and Art and Music on the other.  Along with these figures were numerous others including lions and life sized child figures of Morning, Noon, Evening and night.

Mr. Shiller upon seeing the finished work objected to the lions and figures of the times of day. Complaining that they cluttered his box. Louis Sullivan argued that if Bock changed the artwork, he would never hire the sculptor again. Mr. Shiller won and Sullivan never hired Bock again. To add further injury, a prominent actress upon seeing the figure Diana resting her hand upon a peacock in the figures flanking the stage refused to work in the theater unless it were removed. She won the argument and Bock removed the figure, thus leaving a gap in the artwork.  Unfortunately, the beauty of Bock’s was destroyed with the buildingin 1960.

The next post will discuss in detail the relationship with Wright and Bock’s artwork for Wright’s incredible buildings.

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