Carl Milles was born June 23, 1875, near Uppsala, Sweden, and died
at Lagga in 1955.
During his busy life, he planned a career as a gymnastic
instructor in Chile but was diverted into a nine-year stay in Paris,
studying art and working in the studio of the great Auguste Rodin.
Enriched by this experience and establishing his own artistic
reputation, Milles and his wife, Olga, moved in 1904 to Munich, then a
great arts center.
The couple returned to Sweden in 1906, buying a site on the cliffs
of the island of Lidingö that became famous as Millesgarden, later a
nonprofit art foundation and a gift to the Swedish people. By the
mid-1920s, Milles’ fame brought him an official invitation from the
Irish government to take part in the design contest for the new
coinage of the Irish Free State.
In 1931, George Gough Booth brought Milles to America as an
artist-in-residence at the Cranbrook Educational Community in
Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
Milles’ years in America were highly productive, and his
monumental sculptures included Wedding of the Waters at St. Louis and
the Hand of God in Detroit. The latter was erected with contributions
from the United Auto Workers in honor of Frank Murphy, city mayor,
Michigan governor and high commissioner to the Philippines.
All Milles sculptures are highly desirable, but few are accessible
to the art market, increasing collector pressure on his medals. These
are wonderful examples of the Swedish sculptor’s inimitable, humorous
and occasionally irreverent style.
One of the better known Milles efforts hails the 400th anniversary
of King Gustav I Vasa in 1923, with its typically rugged bust right
with massive beard and the three crowns of the national arms.
In more whimsical style is Milles’ medal for the 1923 jubilee of
the great port city of Göteborg, Sweden’s second city in size and importance.
The medal’s obverse shows a crowned, sword-wielding rampant lion
holding the Swedish shield within a commemorative inscription. The
reverse is a tribute to the city’s role in education, industry,
commerce and seafaring.
Marching resolutely to the left are figures of helmeted Minerva
reading a book, the god Vulcan holding a gear, commerce god Mercury
with winged helmet and caduceus, and bearded sea god Neptune with
trident. All the nude male figures show typically exaggerated
musculature, but Neptune lightens the tone with his rather impudent
grin. Below is a playful dolphin.
This deep glossy brown medal bears the edgemark of the noted
Swedish medal firm C.C. SPORRONG & CO. It is a scarce and elusive,
playful and satisfying design.
David T. Alexander, is a Senior Numismatist and researcher for
Heritage Auctions, firstname.lastname@example.org.
He is author of American Art Medals, 1909-1995.