Carl Milles created three colossal Sun Singer statues: one in Stockholm, commissioned in 1919 by the Swedish Academy of Sciences to honor the influential poet-patriot Esaias Tegner (1782-1846), who did so much to bring Norse sagas and Scandinavian literature to the public; another in National Memorial Park south of Falls Church, Virginia, in the Washington, D.C., area; and this one at Robert Allerton Park.
Tegner's prolix romantic poem "Song to the Sun" abounds in references to ghosts, angels, vassals, warriors, avengers, and the Almighty. But for his tribute Milles chose Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, music, poetry, and civilization, depicting him as a nude youth greeting the radiant morning sky with song and extended arms. On his helmet is the rearing horse Pegasus, and under his right foot, the tortoise, an allusion to the first lyre, made of tortoise shell by Hermes and given to Apollo. On the base, in the archaic Greek style popular in the 1920s, are draped and nude figures rendered in low relief-the nine Muses often associated with Apollonian festivities: Euterpe, the muse of music and lyric poetry; Polyhymnia, oratory and sacred poetry; Urania, astronomy; Clio, history; Thalia, comedy; Melpomene, tragedy; Terpsichore, dance and choral song; Erato, love poetry; and Calliope, epic poetry.
Allerton saw the first Sun Singer on the Stromparterre overlooking the Stockholm harbor in 1929 and personally sought out Milles in his suburban Lidingo studio to commission a reduced-scale version for himself. Misunderstandings about size, however, developed because of language difficulties, and when this spectacular figure in all its enormity arrived from Sweden, John Allerton remembered that he and his father were "flabbergasted." Scrapping their plan to put it close to the house, where the Apollo would have seemed to be looking directly into a second-story window, it was set in 1932 in a wide circular base surrounded by low shrubbery in the dramatic isolation of an enormous meadow at the farthest end of the estate. Two farmhouses had to be moved to provide an unobstructed site. Both the landscaping and base, an adaptation of the symbolic Altar of Heaven in Peking, are John Allerton's designs.
Milles wrote feelingly of his sculpture in lllinois some years later. Asking Allerton if photographs of the Sun Singer could be obtained for him, he said, "I need 6 of the statue against the clouds and I need 6 with the whole setting which I think is magnificent-the most beautiful I have ever seen-except how the Chinese have done with their works. They ask me from London, two different writers from Paris-Prague and Stockholm and I wish to show them how you understood to that outstanding way of placing a statue in our time. I hope this bronze will stay there in that way till the last man has gone-when the earth is as dead as the moon-and still this is there. Such a dream!"
John Allerton deserves credit for the outdoor arrangement, of course. As for Milles's dream, despite park motorcyclists, sharpshooters, and the graffiti-obsessed, the Sun Singer does still retain all its vivid beauty and immense popular appeal.
The University possesses another Milles masterwork, the bronze and marble Dianna Fountain that once graced Chicago's Michigan Square Building. Due to the efforts of alert, generous alumni, it is situated now in a lovely courtyard just west of the Illini Union on the Urbana-Champaign campus.