Perched high on the windowsills of the library corridor are two bronze portrait busts. Many members of the Hall must walk through the library corridor several times a day without noticing them, or perhaps, without even realising that they are there. This post deals with one of the pair, which even viewed from below, clearly represents the gaunt, almost skull-like head of Fr Martin D’Arcy.
D’Arcy, while far from insignificant as writer and controversialist, is also remarkable as an instigator. It was, for example, D’Arcy who encouraged Evelyn Waugh to writer his biography of St Edmund Campion. And it may also have been he who laid the groundwork for the long and distinguished career of an American sculptor, Frederick Charles Shrady. Shrady (1907-1990) hailed from Connecticut, and his father, Henry Merwin Shrady, was also a sculptor, who produced highly naturalistic studies of the more magnificent American animals, and was also responsible for the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial, among other public commissions. After school, Frederick Shrady studied painting at the Art Students’ League in New York, and then went to New College Oxford to study history of art and architecture. He moved to Paris in 1931 to work under Yasushi Tanaka, a competent, post-Impressionist painter whose work was entirely untouched by the innovations of artists such as Picasso, though he also considered the Fauvist André Derain a mentor and friend, and his own work as a painter was influenced by contemporary developments. He married and acquired a son in this period, and in 1940, after the outbreak of World War Two, he returned to the USA with his young family to join the US Army. His art-historical expertise was put to use in service as one of the so-called ‘Monuments Men’ who tracked down and retrieved looted art. While working in Bavaria, he met an Austrian translator with the U.S. Army Fine Arts and Monuments Department, who became his second wife and the mother of another six children.
In 1948, Shrady converted to Roman Catholicism, and in 1950, found his true métier as an artist when he took up sculpture. His earliest known work is this head of Fr D’Arcy, which was bought by Matthew J. Murray and presented to the Metropolitan Musem of Art in 1953 (though it has recently been deaccessioned and was sold by Doyle New York in 2015). Though D’Arcy was English Provincial from 1945-50, he was a regular visitor to the USA through the forties and fifties, since he lectured extensively there on the subject of Christian Humanism from 1936 onwards. It was presumably during one of these visits that he and Shrady became acquainted (Shrady had left Oxford before D’Arcy arrived there). Given D’Arcy’s extraordinary record of bringing people he encountered into the Catholic church, he may well have played a hand in the artist’s conversion.
As a Christian, and in particular, a Catholic sculptor, Shrady was both commercially and critically successful. Among other notable commissions, he created a massive bronze of St Anne teaching the Virgin Mary for St Ann’s Chapel at Stanford University, twelve bas-relief panels depicting The Life of Mary for the doors of the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Israel, and a statue of Our Lady of Fatima for the Vatican Gardens, commissioned by John Paul II. His honours included the Legion of Honor awarded by the French government, and he was made a Knight Equestrian by the Order of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The work in progress at the time of his death, curiously, was a bust of Gerard Manley Hopkins, so his career as a sculptor both began and ended with an Oxford Jesuit.
-- Jane Stevenson