The classicism of the Jefferson Memorial, inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, a design beloved of Jefferson, is by John Russell Pope and was dedicated in 1943, during the Second World War. The monument’s classicism was pecked at by modernist ducks – among them William Hudnut, head of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Hudnut declared that “this monument, when completed, will embody so grotesque a presentation of Jefferson’s character as to make him, if such a thing is possible, forever ridiculous.” In spite of such claptrap, which purposely overlooked Jefferson’s role in setting classicism as the young nation’s design template, Pope’s memorial was built after FDR overrode objections by the Fine Arts Commission, which never voted to approve it.
(Thanks to Erik Bootsma for correcting an earlier version that said the design was approved by the commission.)
Pomp, which embodies what critics saw in the design’s classicism, betrays a profound but typical misunderstanding. If anything, circumstance is the key word, and classicism fits itself to a building’s purpose of representing its subject’s character and accomplishments with modesty, simplicity and elegance – an ethos that modernism cannot abide.
In the photo above, the Jefferson Memorial is observed from the National World War II Memorial. The photo below was shot moments later.
Pope’s one flaw was not to include an oculus which would have kept to out of the shadows. Fitting for a child of the enlightenment.
Curiously Fine Arts commission actually never approved the design. In fact it opposed it but FDR and Congress ignored them anyway.