After about 40 years away at college, Cleopatra and The Blind Girl have gone home.
Two 19th-century Italian statues, purchased around 1898 by railroad and mining magnate Alfred McCune and his wife, Elizabeth, had been housed since about 1973 at Brigham Young University in Provo. The works have recently been restored and moved back to the McCune Mansion in downtown Salt Lake City.
The McCarthey family, which owns and has restored the mansion, showed the returned marble sculptures to the media Tuesday.
Mark Alan Magleby, director of the BYU Museum of Art, cited an 1898 article in the Salt Lake Herald, detailing a social event at the mansion, a premiere of sorts for the sculptures. The article called "Cleopatra," sculpted by Oscar Spalmach, "the most beautiful thing that has ever been exhibited in this part of the globe."
Philip McCarthey, representing his family, cited the tangential role of "The Blind Girl," a work by sculptor Giacomo Ginotti, in Italian history. Either this sculpture or a replica once was owned by King Umberto I of Italy — whose conspicuous wealth and colonial ambitions prompted leftist protests. The dissent ended with the king’s assassination in 1900 by an Italian-born anarchist who had lived in New Jersey.
Both sculptures, Magleby said, were displayed at the World’s Columbian Exposition, the world’s fair in Chicago in 1893.
The statues’ journey to BYU and back unfolded over decades. The McCune family donated the mansion and its contents to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1920, and the statues remained there while the house was used as a music school and art center. The LDS Church divested the house in 1973, and the sculptures were moved to BYU.
The Cleopatra statue was on display for years at the Life Sciences Building, and went to the Museum of Art when it was built in 1993. The Blind Girl had never been on public display at BYU, Magleby said.
The McCartheys, who took over the mansion in 1999, paid an undisclosed amount to restore the statues. The sculptures will be on display at the mansion on a long-term loan from the BYU museum.
The McCune Mansion is used for corporate meetings, weddings and other events — and is available for educational tours.
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