Hermon A. MacNeil was an up-and-coming younger American sculptor at the time of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904. At the fair, his Fountain of Liberty and four other sculpture groups were placed along the Main Cascade. Three additional MacNeil works were much admired inside the Fines Arts Palace, now known as the Saint Louis Art Museum’s Sculpture Hall.
Ironically, the most inconspicuously placed of MacNeil’s sculptures for the fair has become his most enduring contribution to the Art Museum. Ars Artium Omnium, or The Art of All Arts, is a series of three panels above the doorways of the Museum’s north facade. Originally crafted in plaster, it was later carved in stone and given a gold mosaic background thanks to funds provided by the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company of 1913.
Ars Artium Omnium draws from a familiar series of motifs based on ancient and Renaissance art. In MacNeil’s own words:
In regard to an interpretation of the bas-relief of the facade of the City Art Museum, the attempt was made to produce a figure of beauty, as the central figure in the milled panel – “an apotheosis” – if you will, enshrined. On either side of her (is) St. Louis – with the city seal – out of her abundance, paying homage to the beauty… On the right, you have allegorical figures representing Sculpture, Painting, Music, and the fourth figure introduced (that could) go by any name… On the opposite side are the figures of architecture and the allied arts; Ceramic and the kneeling figure typifying the discovery of the beauty oftentimes dug from the earth that has been produced in past ages. You will notice in the grouping (that) the two side panels lead toward the central figure.