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Why were “Art Medals” issued in the first place?


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Why were “Art Medals” issued in the first place?

 

I have a small collection of athletic (cycling) Art Nouveau and Art Deco “Art Medals”. I have looked up the history of Art Medals but would be interested in your perspective on the subject. Clearly some medals are fashioned as bone fide art forms in their own right, especially those that are cast. However mine are ‘strikes” that might have been issued more than once. Why are they issued in the first place?

 

They are not currency or tokens. They were rarely (if ever) given as prizes in competitive athletic events. Some can be considered as “art”, others are actually rather mundane. Some might have been commissioned to celebrate an event or an occasion. Some were subsequently purchased (after being struck) for that purpose also. However, these were presumably not very cheap to produce. Who funded their creation and why? The artist? The Mint? Any other thoughts?

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If you don't have, at a minimum, even a mediocre library for reference then, if you're a serious collector, you'll need to start building one. A good foundation book for reference is Mark Jones' "Art of the Medal" which walks you through the history of the medal from the renaissance to the 1970's. Once you have this book you'll be able to use the bibliography to search for more books that are within your collecting strategy.

 

Here is a link with the info for the book and I'd suggest this to anyone who collects. Like coins, if you don't know what your looking at you can get lost very easily...and that can turn into a very expensive proposition, not to mention you'll end up with a hodge-podge collection of "things" that don't show or explain anything to anyone at anytime.

 

Art of the Medal

 

PS. You know, I look at some of the collectors over at another forum and shake my head. They collect a medal because it's pretty, like a bangle or bauble to impress their friends...I have harped, on more than one occasion, that 'pretty" or "neat" just doesn't cut it and it actually is disrespectful to the artist and the intent behind it's creation. Medals are created, for the most part, within a historical context. If you do not have the innate drive to learn about the piece, or garner new information about the piece, you have nothing...except a pretty, or neat, shiny object.

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PS. You know, I look at some of the collectors over at another forum and shake my head. They collect a medal because it's pretty, like a bangle or bauble to impress their friends...I have harped, on more than one occasion, that 'pretty" or "neat" just doesn't cut it and it actually is disrespectful to the artist and the intent behind it's creation. Medals are created, for the most part, within a historical context. If you do not have the innate drive to learn about the piece, or garner new information about the piece, you have nothing...except a pretty, or neat, shiny object.

 

Great way to put it, GD.

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I'd like to know more about the process overall as well. In art medals my collection is focused solely on the work of J.P. Daniel-Dupuis. Even that produces an extensive list. But back to the main topic. Dupuis created primarily two types of medals, portraits and those relating to events. For the portraits the originals appear to be large (3=4" diameter pieces) though I haven't seen any of Dupuis. These were then reduced and cast or struck in some quantities. I assume these medals were commisioned by the people represented on the medals, or in some cases admirers. The "Art Medals" are the ones done for events. Global Exhibitions, Art Academies, Prizes for Awards, are just a few of the topics. Again, there are large cast versions and then reproductions in various sizes and quantities. I think usually there was a sponser, say the Paris Exhibition of 1889 or the various Art Academies and Societies, They would presumably fund the artist and he would deliver the medals. It seems to have been a decent business for top notch artists at least from 1870 until WWII.

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A couple of other references, more specialized, but they help understand the role of the art medal in the human (at least Western) psyche. The first, Images of the Illustrious by John Cunnally examines numismatics in the Renaissance and the role of Greek and Roman coins in building interest in the arts and history. The second reference, The Fabrication of Louis XIV by Peter Burke examines the construction of the image of Louis XIV in a number of art forms including medals. The art form we see in the 1800s and early 1900s was the legacy of the Renaissance and the later role of the medal in creating cultural reality. Today's art medals are closely tied to the larger art market and many function as art that you can hold in your hands, something much different from the role of the medal just 50 years ago. You can trace some of the roots of the modern art medal in groups such as the Society of Medallists and the earlier Circle of Friends of the medal.

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Bill, so are you saying that the modern art medal is more art for art's sake, while the earlier medals had perhaps more utilitiy in theit purpose?

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Bill, so are you saying that the modern art medal is more art for art's sake, while the earlier medals had perhaps more utilitiy in theit purpose?

 

Yes and no. The U.S. government still issues medals that fit the traditional notion of the medal (e.g. commemorating significant events as one part of the traditional definition). The French government sometimes blurs the line (i.e. the reach for the commemorative ideal is there, but it is sometimes a long reach). Artists, on the other hand, are pushing the envelop. D. Wayne Johnson's article in the September 2007 Numismatist entitled Objects of Desire is a good survey of the modern field. He proposes the term, medallic objects, not sculptures but objects with sculptural dimensionality.

 

Take for example Ron Dutton's Avebury medallic object:

 

937175.jpg

 

in comparison to the Louis XIV medal:

 

1480402607_41d51fd06f.jpg

 

or the Washington Before Boston medal:

 

930086.jpg

 

or even the satirical pieces of World War I (even when they are political copies):

 

2145017042_31ed71ea26.jpg

 

I'll end with one additional medallic object, this one from Japan:

 

1465360796_30b8dc489b.jpg

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Ahh, so the question is whether a medal is something different than a medallic object, and if so, how does one define each.

I suppose it doesn't matter too much since we can collect either :-)

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I tend to lump both as medals, but the collecting focus can be really different. I think most modern artists would see themselves in the long history of medallic artists even if their product is quite different today.

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Are the modern metallic objects created for a customer, or are they often done for art's sake?

 

A link to a modern medallist: Sarah Peters

 

Many of her medals are done for art's sake, although she also accepts commissions. Her web site shows a series of bronze plaques produced as a commission in addition to some of her medal output.

 

Some of Ron Dutton's recent work, both for art's sake and commissions can be seen on his web page.

 

Sarah's page offers other links as well.

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