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Court of the Universe

The Court of the Universe is the most magnificent of the courts. Considering the many units - the noble arches, the long colonnades with their corner pavilions, the sunken garden with its fountains and decorative sculpture, and the vista to the Column of Progress and the Marina - it is by far the richest in artistic interest. But is it so imposing, so vast, that it necessarily lacks the sense of quiet restfulness and intimacy of appeal of the smaller courts. It is in a sense the Civic Center of the great Exposition model city, and as such it offers many suggestions of wise planning - and one or two of poor planning, as in the case of the obtrusive band-stand.

The meaning of the court is to be found in the symbolism of the groups surmounting the two triumphal arches - the Nations of the East meeting the Nations of the West. With the opening of the Panama Canal the peoples of the universe have met at last; West faces East on this shore of the Pacific. The idea is finely expressed in the lines by Walt Whitman, inscribed on the west arch, in which the spirit of the Aryan race, having traveled this far, is supposed to speak as she gazes westward to Asia, "the house of maternity," her original home:

Facing west from California's shores,
Inquiring, tireless, seeking what is yet unfound,
I, a child, very old, over waves, towards the house
of maternity, the land of migrations, look afar,
Look off the shores of my Western Sea,
the circle almost circled.

Variations of this theme may be found in the murals under the arches, and in those under the Tower of Jewels near by. Other universal themes are treated in the Fountains of the Rising Sun and of the Setting Sun, and in The Elements at the edge of the sunken garden. The idea of achievement, of victory in conquering the universe, is also suggested in the triumphal arches.


The style of architecture is in general Roman; though, as is true almost throughout the Exposition buildings, there is an admixture of Renaissance motives. Even on the massive Roman arches there is a trace of Moorish lightness and color in the green lattices; and the domes of the corner pavilions are clearly Eastern in feeling.

The East and West arches are, of course, reminiscent of the triumphal arches of the Roman Conquerors. A comparison with pictures of the famous Arch of Constantine and the Arch of Titus at Rome, will show how thoroughly the architects have mastered the feeling of the classic examples, while largely modifying the decorative features. To properly see either of the arches in this court as a single unit, it is best to stand at the side of the sunken garden, near one of the figures of "The Elements," where the fountain columns do not obstruct the view.

The long colonnade, with its fine Corinthian columns and its surmounting row of "Star-girls," can best be appreciated when one stands facing north, with back to the Tower of Jewels - since the architecture of that was clearly conceived by another mind and built in a different spirit. It is from the two corner pavilions on the tower side, perhaps, that the best general views of the court can be obtained. Unfortunately the attractive view down the straight colonnades of the north extension of the court is marred by a gaudy band pavilion, which is quite out of keeping with the pervading mood of simple dignity. The little corner pavilions are worthy of study alone, as a graceful and unusual bit of architectural design.

The Court of the Universe was designed by McKim, Mead and White.


The Court of the Universe has more than its share of the best sculpture of the Exposition. In this court more than anywhere else one can obtain an idea of the remarkable scope of the sculptured groups. It is a good place to linger in if one has heretofore had pessimistic doubts about the ultimate flowering of the art of sculpture in America.

The Fountain of the Rising Sun is at the east end of the sunken garden. Its tall shaft is surmounted by the figure of a youth typifying the Rising Sun - a figure of irresistible appeal. The morning of day and the morning of life, the freshness of the dawn and the aspiration of youth - these things are remarkably suggested in the figure. With head up and winged arms outstretched, the youth is poised on tiptoe, the weight thrown forward, as if just on the point of soaring.

The Fountain of the Setting Sun is just opposite, at the west end of the sunken garden. The surmounting figure here, though officially called "The Setting Sun," is more appropriately named "Descending Night" - the title the artist has given to the bronze replica in the Fine Arts gallery. The closing in of night - that is what is so perfectly suggested in the relaxed body, the folding-in wings, and the remarkable sense of drooping that characterizes the whole statue. There is, too, an enveloping sense of purity and sweetness about the figure.

These two statues which surmount the Fountains of the Rising Sun and the Setting Sun are among the most charming sculptures at the Exposition. They have not the strength of the figures of the Elements, or the massive nobility and repose of the Genius of Creation, or the purely modern native appeal of the works of Stackpole and Young and Fraser. But for those of us who are sculpture lovers without asking why, they come closer to our hearts and dwell more intimately in our minds than any of these. "Descending Night" especially has a sensuous charm of graceful line, a maidenly loveliness, that appeals irresistibly. Both figures are by Adolph A. Weinman.

Above the higher basin of each fountain the column drum is decorated with figures in relief. While the two friezes are meant to be decorative primarily, the artist has employed in each case a symbolism in keeping with the crowning figure. The frieze in the Fountain of the Rising Sun represents "Day Triumphant." The symbolic figures typify the awakening of man's finer instincts and energies at the call of the morning, and the shrinking of the vices when the darkness of night gives place to the light of day. The relief-frieze of the "Fountain of the Setting Sun" is entitled "The Gentle Powers of Night." It represents Descending Night bringing with her the Stars, the Moon-goddess, Dreams, and similar beautiful things. The lower basins of both fountains contain figures of centaurs (a new sea-variety, with fins) holding sea-monsters.

Groups surmounting arches. The monumental groups surmounting the two triumphal arches are "The Nations of the East," on the Arch of the Rising Sun, and "The Nations of the West," on the Arch of the Setting Sun. The symbolic idea behind the two compositions thus placed facing each other, is that of the nations of the Eastern and Western Hemispheres at last meeting on this Pacific shore.

The Nations of the East is made up of five mounted and four unmounted figures, all typical of the Orient. Reading from the spectator's left to right, the mounted figures are: 1. an Arab tribal chief on a horse; 2. a Mohammedan standard bearer on a camel; 3. the East Indian on his richly-caparisoned elephant; 4. another Mohammedan standard-bearer on a camel; 5. a Mongolian horseman. Between the mounted figures are the following on foot: 1. a servant with a basket of fruits; 2. an Arab falconer; 3. a Thibetan lama or priest; 4. another servant with fruit.

The Nations of the West represents typical figures from the European nations which have helped to develop America, together with two American Indians and an Alaskan. A central composition shows the Mother of Tomorrow and a surmounting group typifying the Spirit of Enterprise which has led the Aryan race to conquer the West. The figures, from left to right, are: 1. the French-Canadian (sometimes called "The Trapper"), on horseback; 2. the Alaskan, carrying totem poles, on foot; 3. the Spanish-American conqueror, mounted; 4. the German-American, on foot; 5. the Mother of Tomorrow, on the tongue of the ox-drawn prairie schooner; 6. the Italian-American, on foot; 7. the English-American, mounted; 8. an Indian squaw; 9. the American Indian, mounted. On top of the prairie schooner the Spirit of Enterprise is represented by a spirited winged figure, with a boy at either hand.

The way in which the two groups balance each other at the two ends of the court is worthy of study - the elephant of the one offset by the prairie schooner of the other. Indeed each feature of one is balanced in the other so that the two will mass against the sky with the same general decorative effect. "The Nations of the East," considered as a whole, seems the more satisfying group - richer in feeling, more unified in design, and more massive; in short, more monumental and therefore better fitted to crown the noble arch. But if this fits its setting better, and masses against the sky more satisfyingly, "The Nations of the West" will be found on close examination to contain the better individual figures. The Alaskan (unfortunately almost lost to view in the present placing of the group), the Canadian Trapper, and the mounted Indian are all worthy of prolonged study; and the figure of the Mother of Tomorrow is one of the finest bits of sculpture at the Exposition. In these figures, and only slightly less so in the other figures of this and the opposite group, there is ample evidence that the American sculptors have outgrown the traditions of by-gone "schools" and have developed a genuine native medium of expression. The two groups are the work of A. Stirling Calder, Leo Lentelli, and Frederick G. R. Roth in collaboration.

Figures at north and south of sunken garden. Flanking the stairways to the sunken garden at north and south are four large figures by Robert Aitken, typifying "The Elements."

Air is at the west end of the south stairway, and is represented as a huge winged female figure putting a star in her hair. Two birds, old-time symbols of the air, complete the suggestion. At the back a man has tied himself to the wings of the figure typifying man's effort to put to his own use the wings of the air.

Earth is placed at the east end of the south stairway. A huge female figure rests on conventionalized rocks, and a formalized tree partially supports her. At the back two small struggling figures are seen, typifying man's struggle with the forces of earth.

Water is placed at the east end of the north stairway. The sea-god, with his trident in one hand and sea-weed in the other, rides on a wave, with a dolphin beside him.

Fire at the west end of the north stairway - is typified by the figure of a man in agony, with one hand grasping the flame, and with jagged lightning in the other, symbolizing man's terror of fire as well as his conquering of it. A salamander completes the main design, while at the back the phoenix, bird fabled to rise from fire, helps support the figure.

These four figures are of the sort of art that is likely to turn the unthinking person away, though a study of them will bring out new beauties with riper acquaintance. Because people fail to get far enough away from them to obtain the proper perspective, the statues seem too huge, too strong, too terrible, ever to be attractive. They are, it is true, out of scale, and thus mar the effect of the court to a certain extent. But there is in them something of the noble and compelling strength of the statues of Michael Angelo - to whom the sculptor clearly owes his inspiration. Stand between the columns at the corner of the Transportation Palace, and you will see that the figure of Fire not only is imaginatively conceived but is a fine line composition as well. Study of the other three from corresponding viewpoints will well repay in increased understanding and pleasure.

Figures at east and west of sunken gardens. Flanking the east and west stairways are two groups by Paul Manship. The one representing two girls dancing or running is called sometimes "Festivity," sometimes "Motion." Here the artist has welded the figures into an ornamental design in a way unparalleled in the work of other American sculptors. Note the finely varied outline, the sense of rhythmic motion, and the rich feeling that every part is decorative. The opposite group is called "Music" or "Music and Poetry." It lacks the flowing grace and something of the richness of feeling of the other, though it is more dignified. There is the same conventionalization in treatment, again charming. These groups are not for people who look for realism in art above all else; but for those who care for the classic, who see in formalization a short-cut to the expression of the spirit of a thing, there are few more appealing groups in the grounds. The figures are repeated at the east and west entrances to the garden.

Minor Sculptures. The slender "Stars" along the top of the colonnade are the work of A. Stirling Calder. When one remembers that this is the Court of the Universe, they seem to fit in with the meaning of the whole, and architecturally their symmetry of form fits them well for repetition. The low relief friezes on the corner pavilions represent "The Signs of the Zodiac," and are by Hermon A. MacNeil. A formalized Atlas is represented in the center, and at each side are seven of his daughters, the Pleiades and the Hyades, whom the gods changed into stars. Twelve of the maidens have plaques bearing the symbols of the Zodiac. The frieze is well composed and beautifully modeled, but the rough Travertine does not do it justice. The minor sculptures on the triumphal arches consist of a repeated winged angel with sword down-turned, by Leo Lentelli; spirited spandrels over the arches, representing "Pegasus," by Frederick G. R. Roth; and two well-adapted medallions by A. Stirling Calder and B. Bufano. All of these decorative features are repeated on both sides of both arches.

Mural Paintings

The four mural paintings of the Court of the Universe, two under each of the triumphal arches, represent the progress of civilization from the old world to the American far West. The two under the Arch of the Rising Sun, at the east of the court, represent the nations that crossed the Atlantic and their ideals, while those under the western arch show the march of the pioneers from New England to California. To obtain the proper sequence of thought the ones under the eastern arch should be examined first.

Murals in Arch of the Rising Sun. On the south wall of the arch is a panel representing the nations that have dared to cross the Atlantic to bring their civilization to America. The figure farthest to the spectator's right represents the spirit of adventure or "The Call to Fortune." Then follow representatives of the nations, in this order: 1. the half-savage of the lost Continent of Atlantis; 2. the Roman conqueror; 3. the Spanish explorer, typified by a figure resembling Columbus; 4. the English explorer, resembling Raleigh; 5. a priest, typifying the bringing of European religion to America; 6. the artist, bringing the arts; and 7. the workman-immigrant of today. Then follows an allegorical veiled figure, with hand to ear, listening to the hopes and ideals of the men who are following the call to fortune.

The opposite panel shows what the veiled figure has heard - depicts the hopes and ideals that have led men to cross the Atlantic. At the far left are figures symbolizing True Hope and False Hope. Soap bubbles are being scattered by False Hope, and the third figure, typifying Adventure, tries to pick them up. Then follow the true ideals and hopes in this order: 1. Commerce 2. Imaginative Inspiration; 3. Truth and Beauty (one figure); 4. Religion; 5. Wealth; and 6. Family joys (a woman with babes). In this panel the background contains suggestions of Asiatic and American cities. In the other panel the background shows a group of ships, ranging from those of the earliest times to the modern liner.

These two paintings are worthy of study for the historical and symbolic interest. Artistically they are notable chiefly for the remarkable freshness of coloring and rich mosaic effect. Both are by Edward Simmons.

Murals in Arch of the Setting Sun, at the west side of the court. The painting on the north wall should be viewed first. This represents pioneers from a New England village starting for California. There are four groups of figures, as follows: 1. two workmen, and a woman holding a child; 2. a symbolic figure of the Call to Fortune; 3. a group showing the types of those who crossed the continent - the driver first, and then the Preacher, the Pioneer, the Judge, and the Schoolmistress (there are four children also in this group, and at the back is a wagon filled with household goods); and 4. a youth bidding farewell to his parents as he starts to join the band of emigrants. At the back of the last group is seen a typical New England home, and in the distance a New England meeting-house.

"The Arrival on the Pacific Coast" is the title of the painting on the opposite wall, which represents the immigrants being welcomed as they reach California. Here again there are four groups of figures. The first shows two Spanish-American soldiers and their captain, following a priest, typical of the days of Spanish rule in California and of the Mission period. Second, there is a symbolic figure, "The Spirit of Enlightenment." The third and main group shows types of immigrants. The men here are: 1. the scientist; 2. the architect; 3. the writer; 4. the sculptor; 5. the painter; 6. the agriculturist; and 7. the miner (or other manual worker). A woman and several children complete the group, and at the back is a prairie schooner, from which a girl waves a flag. The fourth group represents California welcoming the immigrants, the state being symbolized by tokens of the wealth it has to offer settlers: the orange tree, sheaves of grain, and fruits - the figures including the miner, the farmer, fruit pickers, and the California bear. This last group is the most colorful, and in many ways the most appealing, of all those in the two panels under the west arch. It is interesting to compare the golden warmth here and indeed throughout the California panel - with the cold atmosphere of the New England one.

Those who are familiar with the historical characters of the West will be able to recognize in the California panel idealized portraits of William Keith as the painter, Bret Harte as the writer, and Junipero Serra as the priest. In the New England panel may be found William Taylor, famous street preacher of the early days in California, as the preacher, and "Grizzly" Adams as the pioneer.

Both murals under the Arch of the Setting Sun are by Frank Vincent Dumond.

The Side Courts

The two small connecting courts, or aisles, at the east and west of the Court of the Universe are known as the Florentine Court and the Venetian Court respectively. Both are in Italian Renaissance architecture, and both are remarkably rich in color. The patterns on the shafts of the columns, while doubtless adding to the feeling of richness, are a little too pronounced, tending to destroy that restfulness which is felt in the other Italian courts, the Court of Flowers and the Court of Palms. In both the Florentine Court and the Venetian Court the planting schemes harmonize unusually well with the architecture.

Size of the Court of the Universe

For the sake of those who find added interest in knowing on what scale a work of art is built, the following facts are added:

The area of the Court of the Universe is about seven acres. On its east and west axis, from arch to arch, it is six hundred and fifty feet; on its north and south axis, from the Tower of Jewels to the Column of Progress, it is nearly twelve hundred feet.

The Arches of the Rising Sun and the Setting Sun have a total height, to the top of the surmounting sculpture, of two hundred and three feet.

The Tower of Jewels is 433 feet in height, while the main archway beneath is 110 feet high.

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