Mahonri Macintosh Young

American, 1877-1957


Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Mahonri Young is best known as a sculptor and painter of religious subjects and in New York City for sculpture and paintings of of boxers and laboring people.  In America he was one of the early sculptors of genre figures, everyday people going about their everyday lives. He introduced these social realist subjects in 1904, and this focus on non-lofty subjects were perceived as a threat to the Beaux Arts style that had been prevalent because of the European academic training of the dominant sculptors such as Augustus Saint Gaudens. However, this new realism of Young's, inspired by his exposure to the French peasants in the paintings of Jean-Francois Millet, did not have wide-spread popularity until the 1930s.

Young was a grandson of Brigham Young, immigration leader of the Mormons to Utah, and as a boy he began sculpting with clay from the canal banks by his house. He was further inspired to sculpt when Cyrus Dallin came to Salt Lake to sculpt a statue of Mahonri's grandfather, Brigham Young. Young dropped out of school after the eighth grade to work in a stationery store and was also briefly a newspaper artist for the "Salt Lake Tribune."

In 1899, he enrolled in the Art Students League in New York and then studied in Paris at the Julian, Colarossi, and Delecluse academies and traveled extensively in Europe. Returning to the United States, he lived primarily in New York City where he had a studio on 59th Street and a country home in Ridgefield, Connecticut. 

He returned to Paris in 1923 to work with well-known architect, Bertram Goodhue, on a monument for the American Pro Cathedral. Young liked Paris so well, that two years later he returned with his family to spend another two and one-half years. 

It was said that during this time, away from pressures of teaching at the Art Students League which he had done from 1916, his realistic style matured. Upon his return to New York, his exhibition at the Kraushaar Galleries in New York was reportedly one of the most successful shows of his career. 

He continued his teaching at the Art Students League through the Depression years and was increasingly fascinated by the energy of boxing matches and construction laborers, which he reflected in his sculpted energetic figures such as "The Factory Worker." 

He socialized in culturally elite circles and often attended boxing matches with illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. He also reached out to many aspiring Utah artists who came to New York to study including Waldo Park Midgley, Harold Burrows, and John Held, Jr.

Although he did not remain committed to the Mormon religion, church leaders commissioned him to do several major works including a life-size statue of Brigham Young for the United States Capitol building. In Arizona, in 1912, he did a series of drawings of Navaho Indians, which resulted in bronze reliefs, etchings, and pastels documenting Navaho life. 

In 1939, Utah's most famous expatriate artist, gained a major commission from the state--the centennial year monument commemorating the arrival of the Mormon's in Utah. Young's work was titled "This Is The Place Monument," and was completed in 1947. It seemed a fitting, "full-circle" climax to his career, but he remained best known for his smaller figures of workers and athletes. 


In 1948, Young was elected to full membership of the National Academy of Design in New York and spent the remaining ten years of his life as a revered elder statesman of the arts.

He was married twice, first to Celia, and after her death to Dorothy, daughter of artist J. Alden Weir. Their son, Mahonri Sharp Young, became a famous writer.

Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West
Donald Martin Reynolds, Masters of American Sculptors