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A surprising multiplicity of sources is brought into harmony in this beautiful, salmon-colored terracotta sculpture by American artist John Storrs (1885–1956). The choice of subject, a mother and child, evolved from the artist’s emotional experience of the death of his mother and birth of his only child. Its visual language, however, is starkly modernist. The fragmented, geometric planes of the robe, arms, and head draw from cubism, while its architectonic solidity, tapering verticality, and repetitive “set back” design mirror American art deco skyscrapers. This is no surprise, as Storrs, the son of an architect, grew up amid the towering skyline of Chicago. Yet the sculpture also looks back to European sources, as Storrs spent most of his career in France. Its column-like form harkens back to jamb figures that surround the entryways of medieval cathedrals, while earlier Madonna and Child paintings model the affection of the mother, who tilts her head lovingly toward her cradled infant. Such tenderness, unexpectedly communicated through a hard-edged style, gently brings us back to the immediate world—the world of a modern mother and child.

Modern Madonna is on view in Gallery 339.

John Storrs, American, 1885–1956; Modern Madonna, c.1918–19; terracotta with traces of paint; 23 7/16 x 7 3/4 x 5 1/8 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Shop Fund 86:1985 © Estate of John Storrs

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