Felix de Weldon
1907 - 2003
Felix de Weldon is internationally recognized as the foremost American sculptor of the 20th century. Most famous for his towering sculpture of the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, he is renowned for his bronze sculptures of statesman and heroes, thirty-two of which grace parks and government buildings in Washington DC. With over twelve hundred public memorials worldwide, Felix de Weldon devoted his life's work to immortalizing those who have left an indelible influence on humanity.
Felix de Weldon was born in the beautiful city of Vienna, Austria on April 12, 1907, the son of a wealthy textile manufacturer. Like all Viennese families before World War I, the de Weldon family was dominated by a love of music. In and around Vienna were the homes of Beethoven, Mozart, Strauss, Schubert and Brahms.He was only 6 years old when he entered St. Egidius School and had his first formal lesson in art. Here, his talent was immediately recognized as genius and the school staff was soon taking him to museums to copy the old masters.
Soon after reaching his tenth birthday Felix entered Marchetti College, a preparatory school where he studied art, history, languages, anatomy and engineering. At age 17, he won his first national sculpture contest in Austria and began exhibiting his work at the Paris Salon in Vienna, and quickly achieved international recognition. In 1925, he graduated from Marchetti College with a Bachelor of Arts degree at age 18. Continuing his academic education and pursuing his study of sculpture and painting, he then entered the University of Vienna's Academy of Creative Arts and School of Architecture and received Master of Arts and Master of Science degrees in 1927 and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1929 at age 22.
Felix de Weldon then set out on two years of travel to broaden his knowledge of the ancient and modern arts. He traveled to Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Greece, Egypt, Palestine and Syria studying such masters as Michelangelo, Raphael, da Vinci and Goya. From 1933 to 1937 he established a residence in London, where he maintained a studio.
In 1935, Dr. de Weldon was commissioned to create the bust of King George V to commemorate the 25th year of his reign. The bronze was originally displayed in Buckingham Palace and later in the National Portrait Gallery in London. No other artist has ever had his or her work displayed there while still alive.
In 1936, Felix de Weldon was commissioned to create the coronation bust of King Edward VIII. Upon King Edward's abdication he was commissioned to create the coronation bust of King George VI. This same year the artist had his works exhibited at London's Royal Academy.
In 1937, he was commissioned to create the bust of Princess Alexandra, daughter of King Alexander of Greece, who later became Queen Alexandra of Yugoslavia.Felix de Weldon’s work was so well known throughout the British Commonwealth that he was invited to travel to Ottawa, Canada to create the bust of then Prime Minister Mackenzie King, who served three times as Prime Minister from 1921 to 1948. Leaving Canada he toured the United States traveling from Canada down the West Coast and from the south to New York. He was so captivated with the friendliness of the American people and their culture that he decided to make the United States his home.
In 1938, Dr. de Weldon moved from London to the United States becoming a United States Citizen in 1945. During World War II, he entered the Navy and served as the artist for Naval Aviation. Stationed at the Patuxent Naval Air Station in Maryland, Petty Officer de Weldon was working on his painting of the Battle of the Coral Sea, when he was inspired by Joseph Rosenthal's action photograph of the six American soldiers raising the flag on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima. The artist concocted a mixture of floor and ceiling wax, and working nonstop for three days and nights, created a three-foot model of the event. The work so impressed his commanding officer and government officials that the artist was asked to create a nine-foot version of his statue in plaster, which subsequently toured the country during the war bond effort.
Shortly thereafter, military and government officials prompted a joint resolution of Congress, commissioning Felix de Weldon to create what would become his life's masterpiece, the forty-eight foot high monument of The Flag Raising On Iwo Jima. The monument took nine years to complete and was dedicated on November 10th, 1954, in Arlington, Virginia as The Marine Corps War Memorial.
In 1950, President Truman appointed Felix de Weldon to the United States Fine Arts Commission. In 1956, he was re-appointed by President Eisenhower, and again in 1961 by President Kennedy. In 1959, he was knighted for his service to the British Crown becoming "Sir Felix de Weldon.”
Felix de Weldon is renowned for his sculptures of heroes, statesmen, and political and religious leaders, which include the following:
- The marble busts of Sir William Blackstone, Professor George Wythe, and Chief Justice John Marshall at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
- The bronze bust of President George Washington at the U.S. Embassy in Canberra, Australia
- The bronze busts of Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower in Washington, DC
- The bronze bust of President John F. Kennedy at the JFK Library in Boston, MA
- The equestrian statue of South American Liberator Simon Bolivar in Washington, DC
- The American Red Cross Memorial in Washington, DC
- The Seabees Monument and the National Guard Monument in Washington, DC.
- The Civil War Monument in Fredericksburg, Virginia
- The Statue of Benjamin Franklin in Louisville, Kentucky
- The Belleau Wood Monument - World War I Memorial at Belleau Wood, France
- The Admiral Richard E. Byrd statues at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica and Washington, DC
- The Risen Christ statue at the Catholic Church of Santa Susanna in Rome, Italy
- The Malaysian National Monument in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia.
In response to the horrific events of September 11, 2001, Felix de Weldon authorized a special edition of his sculpture The Flag Raising On Iwo Jima, our nation's greatest memorial to heroism and freedom. The United We Stand edition commemorates the deaths of all those who perished in this unconscionable attack on the United States and symbolizes the unified response of the American people to stand up to, and confront terrorism. In Felix de Weldon's own words, "this sculpture stands as the American symbol of unity of action, the will to sacrifice, and America's relentless determination to defend freedom."
This would be Felix de Weldon's final gift to the American people. Sadly, he passed away on June 3rd, 2003, at the age of 96. He was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.