New York’s Memorial to Joan of Arc

“Of the love or hatred God has for the English, I know nothing; but I do know that they will all be thrown out of France, except those who die there.”
—Joan of Arc (1411–1431)

Joan of Arc, Riverside Park, New York City, Manhattan, Horses, Sculpture, Bronze, Anna Huntington, Women Artists

The Joan of Arc Memorial, Riverside Park

Walk About New York celebrates Women’s History Month with a look at the Joan of Arc Memorial in Riverside Park, the 253-acre oasis on Manhattan’s West Side, along the Mighty Hudson.

Joan of Arc, Riverside Park, New York City, Manhattan, Horses, Sculpture, Bronze, Anna Huntington, Women Artists

The Joan of Arc Memorial, Riverside Park

Establishing a first in New York City, this bronze equestrian monument to 15th century French patriot and martyr Joan of Arc (1411–1431) was the first erected to a non-fictional woman. In the early 20th century, there were plenty of allegorical female figures (Augustus St. Gaudin’s Victory, leading General Sherman’s horse at Fifth Avenue and West 59th Street), and those from the Greco/Roman tradition (Augustus St. Gaudin’s Diana atop Madison Square Garden’s tower). Although not the first public sculpture to be executed by a woman, it was still a radical fact that the artist was Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington (1876–1973). And this was the first equestrian statue sculpted by a woman.

Joan of Arc, Riverside Park, New York City, Manhattan, Horses, Sculpture, Bronze, Anna Huntington, Women Artists

The Joan of Arc Memorial, detail, Riverside Park

Mrs. Huntington, an imposing figure at nearly six feet tall, was among the most prominent sculptors of the first half of the 20th century; she was also one of the few commercially successful women artists at that time. Mrs. Huntington began her career sculpting animals, large and small.

Joan of Arc, Riverside Park, New York City, Manhattan, Horses, Sculpture, Bronze, Anna Huntington, Women Artists

The Joan of Arc Memorial, detail, Riverside Park

Born of peasant stock in Domrémy, France, Jeanne La Pucelle, later known as Joan of Arc, was divinely inspired to lead the liberation of the France from English rule during the Hundred Years War. The Dauphin of France, later King Charles VII, appointed her commander-in-chief of a small, local army. Because of Joan’s outstanding leadership on the battlefield, the English were forced to withdraw, lifting the siege Orleans, which allowed Charles to be crowned at Reims Cathedral. During the coronation ceremony Joan was given a place of honor next to the king.

Joan of Arc, Riverside Park, New York City, Manhattan, Horses, Sculpture, Bronze, Anna Huntington, Women Artists

The Joan of Arc Memorial, Riverside Park

Captured by the Burgundians while fighting at Compiegne in 1430, she was sold to the English, who charged her with heresy for wearing a man’s suit of armor and because she believed she was accountable only to God, and they accused her of witchcraft. At a lengthy trial she was found guilty and condemned to death. She was burned at the stake on the 31st of May 1431. The proceedings of Joan’s trial were investigated 20 years later; because illegalities were discovered at the first trial she was exonerated of all accusations, and her sentence was annulled. On the 16th of May 1920, Jeanne la Pucelle was canonized by Pope Benedict XV.

Joan of Arc, Riverside Park, New York City, Manhattan, Horses, Sculpture, Bronze, Anna Huntington, Women Artists

The Joan of Arc Memorial, detail, Riverside Park

Written about by authors and portrayed by artists ever since her death, the accomplishments of the Maid of Orleans are legendary. Mark Twain wrote a fictionalized account of her life, The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc in 1896. Playwright George Bernard Shaw gave us Saint Joan, a political drama, in 1923.

Joan of Arc, Riverside Park, New York City, Manhattan, Horses, Sculpture, Bronze, Anna Huntington, Women Artists

The Joan of Arc Memorial, detail, Riverside Park

With the aim to celebrate the 500th anniversary of her birth, a prominent group of New Yorkers formed the Joan of Arc Statue Committee in 1909, the same year Joan was beatified by Pope Pius X. One committee member had been impressed with the young Mrs. Huntington’s plaster equestrian statue of the Maiden of Orleans that she exhibited at the prestigious Paris Salon of 1910. Although her artwork received an honorable mention from the Salon’s jury. On the basis of this accomplishment the New York monument committee awarded her the commission in 1914. There was doubt amongst the jury members that such a well-executed sculpture of such grand proportions could have been made by a woman on her own.

Joan of Arc, Riverside Park, New York City, Manhattan, Horses, Sculpture, Bronze, Anna Huntington, Women Artists

The Joan of Arc Memorial, sculptor and architect detail, Riverside Park

At a total height of 20’4″ the over life-size equestrian figure rests on a pedestal of Mohegan granite, which was quarried in Westchester County, north of New York City. Designed by architect John van Pelt, the pedestal features Gothic-styled blind arches, and is decorated with coats-of-arms at its four corners. Joan of Arc, Jeanne d’Arc in French, had been imprisoned in the dungeon of the Tower of Rouen; some limestone blocks from there, as well as stones from the Cathedral of Reims, were worked into the base’s arches. Because the pedestal includes these bits of stone it represents the high and low points of her life.

Joan of Arc, Riverside Park, New York City, Manhattan, Horses, Sculpture, Bronze, Anna Huntington, Women Artists

The Joan of Arc Memorial, Riverside Park

For an accurate depiction of Joan’s armor, Mrs. Huntington went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, researching its arms and armor collection. She borrowed a horse from the fire department of her hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts in order to refine the anatomy of the mighty beast St. Joan is riding. She modeled the figure of Joan on a 19-year-old niece of hers, who first posed nude, then in costume while straddling a barrel.

Joan of Arc, Riverside Park, New York City, Manhattan, Horses, Sculpture, Bronze, Anna Huntington, Women Artists

The Joan of Arc Memorial, detail, Riverside Park

On the 6th of December 1915, during a grand ceremony, attended by the French Ambassador, Jean J. Jusserand, the monument was unveiled when Mrs. Thomas Alva Edison, a member of the Joan of Arc Statue Committee, helped to pull the cord that dropped the drapery covering it. Thousands of onlookers lined the streets and thronged Riverside Park to get a glimpse of Mrs. Huntington’s work.

Joan of Arc, Riverside Park, New York City, Manhattan, Horses, Sculpture, Bronze, Anna Huntington, Women Artists

The Joan of Arc Memorial, detail, Riverside Park

In the early 1920s reproductions of the Joan of Arc sculpture were commissioned for Gloucester, Massachusetts and Quebec City, Canada. At the ceremony for the replica’s unveiling in a public plaza at Blois, France in 1922, Mrs. Huntington was awarded France’s highest honor, military or civilian, membership in the Légion d’Honneur for creating a monument to France’s national heroine. In 1926 San Francisco’s Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park placed a replica in front of the museum.

Joan of Arc, Riverside Park, New York City, Manhattan, Horses, Sculpture, Bronze, Anna Huntington, Women Artists

The Joan of Arc Memorial, Riverside Park

Mrs. Huntington’s career was a long and noteworthy one. Her 1927 bronze, El Cid commands the courtyard of the Hispanic Society at 156th Street and Broadway. In 1959 she sculpted the equestrian bronze of the Cuban patriot, José Martí, which was placed along Central Park South at Avenue of the Americas, a.k.a. Sixth Avenue.

Joan of Arc, Riverside Park, New York City, Manhattan, Horses, Sculpture, Bronze, Anna Huntington, Women Artists

The Joan of Arc Memorial, detail, Riverside Park

Maintained by a dedicated group of Riverside Park Conservancy’s Grassroots Volunteers, Joan of Arc Island, at West 93rd Street and Riverside Drive, is where Joan of Arc, thrusting her sword skyward, sits astride her war horse, wearing a full suit of armor can be found. She is poised to lead her troops into battle.

Joan of Arc, Riverside Park, New York City, Manhattan, Horses, Sculpture, Bronze, Anna Huntington, Women Artists

The Joan of Arc Memorial, detail, Riverside Park

The Municipal Art Society, NYC’s Department of Parks and Recreation, and the Art Commission of the City of New York joined forces to form the “Adopt-A-Monument” Program in 1987. With a $34,500 grant the Grand Marnier Foundation stepped forward to help clean and restore the monument. The nearby condo at 222 Riverside Drive donated funds to help spruce up the area around the monument, including seeding, new plants and trees, pathway and fence repair and replacement.

Joan of Arc, Riverside Park, New York City, Manhattan, Horses, Sculpture, Bronze, Anna Huntington, Women Artists

The Joan of Arc Memorial, detail, Riverside Park

The inscription on the pedestal reads as follows, “JOAN OF ARC / BORN AT / DOMREMY FRANCE / JANUARY 6TH,1411 / BURNED AT THE STAKE AT / ROUEN, FRANCE / MAY 30TH, 1431/ ERECTED BY / THE JOAN OF ARC STATUE COMMITTEE / IN THE CITY OF NEW YORK 1915”

Joan of Arc, Riverside Park, New York City, Manhattan, Horses, Sculpture, Bronze, Anna Huntington, Women Artists

The Joan of Arc Memorial, detail, Riverside Park

Walk About New York’s tours bring you the best of the Big Apple’s art, architecture, history and fun. From Downtown’s Battery to Greenwich Village’s Washington Square to Midtown’s Rockefeller Center to Central Park’s leafy paths your time will be well spent. Take the Tour; Know More!

Joan of Arc, Riverside Park, New York City, Manhattan, Horses, Sculpture, Bronze, Anna Huntington, Women Artists

The Joan of Arc Memorial, detail, Riverside Park

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