Sculpture & Memorials
The public art in the Garden adds immeasurably to its unique charm. The oldest monument is the 1868 granite and marble Ether Fountain, the gift of Boston resident Thomas Lee. It honors the discovery of the anesthetic qualities of ether, first used in 1846 at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Designed by Henry Van Brunt, the figures and bas reliefs are the work of John Quincy Adams Ward, executed by a local stonecutter known as “a famous fellow with the chisel.” The Angel of Mercy is shown in one panel of the bas relief, and the granite figures at the top portray the parable of the Good Samaritan. The brick-lined pool surrounding the monument was waterless for most of its history, until the Friends led a campaign to restore both the monument and fountain.
The magnificent equestrian statue of George Washington was the second monument to arrive in the Garden. Thomas Ball, a little-known sculptor from Charlestown, received the commission in 1857 after the first choice died. Ball worked single-handedly on the plaster cast for four years, mixing the plaster a bucket at a time. His primary model for the horse was a local charger named Black Prince. The piece could not be cast until after the Civil War because bronze was needed for the war effort.
On July 3, 1869, the statue was unveiled in a grand ceremony with a thirteen-gun salute. It was a moment of intense local pride. A poor Charlestown boy had sculpted the statue, Boston masons had raised the granite base, and a Massachusetts foundry had successfully cast the giant piece.Four bronze statues on granite pedestals have stood as a group for more than eighty years.
Four bronze statues on granite pedestals facing Boylston Street have stood as a group for more than eighty years. The men honored at either end, Charles Sumner and Wendell Phillips, were both Boston-bred statesman and champions of the cause of anti-slavery. Sumner’s statue (1878) was sculpted by Thomas Ball; Phillips (1915), by Daniel Chester French. The two central statues are of Thomas Cass (1899, Richard E. Brooks) and Tadeusz Kosciuszko (1927, Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson). Both were born abroad, and each achieved distinction through military service, Cass as Union colonel in the Civil War, and Polish general Kosciuszko as a trusted aide to Washington in the War for Independence.
Two Boston clergymen are honored with bronze portrait statues on opposite sides of the Garden. A leader in establishing Unitarianism, William Ellery Channing (1903, Herbert Adams) stands in a marble and granite niche at the Boylston-Arlington corner, facing the Arlington Street Church. Author, historian, and Unitarian clergyman Edward Everett Hale, best remembered for his story “The Man Without a Country,” has a more modest statue (1913, Bela Pratt) near the central Charles Street Gate.
The large iron Japanese lantern on the western shore of the lagoon was a gift to the city in 1904 from a well-known Japanese antique dealer. In 1993 the lantern was restored and placed, Japanese style, on a natural stone base, a huge granite boulder from a quarry in Rockport, Massachusetts.
Near the Beacon-Arlington corner stands the beautiful angel monument and fountain honoring George Robert White, one of Boston’s greatest benefactors. When he died in 1922, his will included a charitable trust for public art, with $50,000 set aside for his own memorial. Erected in 1924, the monument is the last of the many collaborations by the sculptor Daniel Chester French and architect Henry Bacon. Symbolizing White’s largesse are the two cornucopias that feed the cobbled granite pool and the graceful bronze angel “casting bread upon the waters.”The immensely popular Duckling Sculpture is at the corner of Beacon and Charles.
The immensely popular Duckling Sculpture at the corner of Beacon and Charles was presented to the city in October 1987 by the Friends of the Public Garden. Based on Robert McCloskey’s 1941 bestseller Make Way for Ducklings, the bronze figures by sculptor Nancy Schön represent Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings as they head toward their final destination, the island in the Garden’s lagoon.
The newest and most somber piece of public art is the 9/11 Memorial, a Garden of Remembrance for the Massachusetts victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Designed by landscape architect Victor Walker and dedicated in 2004, this secluded sitting area with an inscribed parapet is a perfect spot for quiet contemplation.