The Princeton Tiger by Alexander Proctor
LOT 3114 in Autumn Majestic
Future bidders and our catalog browsers may have noticed this bronze sculpture of a tiger resting proudly on one of our dressers offered in our final 2022 feature auction.
While many may glance over this sculpture as just another animal statue, would it surprise you if this was in fact created solely for the purpose of reinventing Princeton University’s Nassau Hall tigers?
This is an exceptional piece – one of many, of course – in our November auction, “Autumn Majestic,” and will be available for bidding Sunday, Nov. 13. But what’s the story behind the sculptor, Alexander Phimister Proctor?
Alexander Phimister Proctor was born Sept. 27, 1860, in Bosanquet, Ontario, Canada, to Thirzah Smith and Alexander Proctor. His family eventually immigrated to Iowa in 1866, then Denver, Colorado, when he was 11 years old.
Growing up on the frontier, Proctor took his gun, pencils and sketch pads with him on trips through the Rocky Mountains. Proctor grew into a skilled woodsman and hunter, which played a large role in his future sculpting career.
In 1885, Proctor sold his Colorado homestead to move to New York, and pursue his studies at the National Academy of Design. Proctor, in reference to his extensive art education, said he was mostly inspired by the French sculptor, Antoine-Louis Barye.
Proctor’s first success was a small bronze fawn casting shown in New York’s Century Club in 1887. Frank D. Millet, who later supervised the decorating process of the World’s Columbian Exposition grounds in Chicago, saw it and decided to meet him.
In 1891, Millet invited Proctor to join a team of artists to create plaster sculptures for the fair’s promenades. Proctor accepted an assignment to decorate the end posts of the fair’s bridges with heroic-sized animals from America’s western wilds. He would work along with the nation’s most recognized sculptors.
Proctor used the Chicago zoo to model his animals in combination with sketches from his Colorado fieldwork. He shot and drew many elk, bear, and cougar.
The success of the Chicago’s Exposition helped his sculpting career significantly. It also provided him with a larger income and afforded him the chance to expand his art studies in Europe. In 1893, as plans were made to ship his Cowboy and Indian plasters to Denver for extended display in their city park, Proctor, along with his new wife, traveled to France.
Proctor finally returned to America in 1900. By 1909, when Princeton’s Class of 1879 commissioned Proctor to create the Nassau Hall tigers to replace the pair of lions the class contributed earlier, he was an award-winning sculptor who specialized in wild animals, like the bears and buffalo that roamed the West.
For his models, Proctor chose two tigers in the Bronx Zoo, Rani and Rajah.
“The bronze had to be thick enough to withstand the treatment undergraduates would give the statues,” Proctor said.
He attended the dedication ceremony on Commencement Day in 1911. “Standing on the platform in front of Nassau Hall, flanked by the statues, Margaret [his wife] and I were introduced by President Wilson and honored with the Princeton yell.”
Rani and Rajah’s descendants included a cub named Princeton.
In that same year of 1911, his work was exhibited at the newly constructed Portland Art Museum, OR, which purchased his Indian Warrior, the first original sculpture to enter the collection.
On July 8, 1915, Proctor copyrighted his first bronze, celebrating the American cowboy. He titled it “Buckaroo,” a term used in the Northwest to describe cowboys. The result would be one of his most successful and popular works.
From this studio in 1922, he completed an equestrian statue of Theodore Roosevelt, which was donated to the city of Portland, OR. Two versions were created for Mandan and Minot, ND, and yet another sculpture cast from the same mold years after his death was dedicated in Oyster Bay, NY, on Oct. 29, 2005. His work was also part of the sculpture event in the art competition at the 1928 Summer Olympics.
Between commissions, he would return to the western wilderness for inspiration, seeking indigenous tribes to pose for his works. Hunting and hiking in the western mountain region provided him with knowledge of animal life and behavior. Because of his western background, he became known as the “sculptor in buckskin.”
Proctor’s Oregon commissions include the equestrian monument to Theodore Roosevelt in Park Blocks, Circuit Rider in Capitol Grounds, and the Oregon Pioneer Mother at the University of Oregon.
Proctor’s sculptures became part of the American civic landscape, including the Buffalo on the Q Street Bridge, Washington, D.C.; Broncho Buster and On the War Trail, Civic Center, Denver; Pioneer Mother, Kansas City, MO; and Minot, ND; and Mustangs, University of Texas, Austin.
He is represented at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and numerous others, including the A. Phimister Proctor Museum in Poulsbo, WA, established in 1997 by his grandson.
Proctor died in Palo Alto, California, Sept. 5, 1950, a few days before his 90th birthday.
“I am eternally obsessed with two deep desires: one, to spend as much time as possible in the wilderness, and the other, to accomplish something worthwhile in art.” — Alexander Phimister Proctor