The Law School has more than thirty sculptures in its collection, many of which are displayed throughout the library. Among the plaster casts, bronze bas-reliefs, and marble sculptures I have my favorites but the one that always brings a smile to my face is Benjamin Cardozo. When I first started at the Law Library, I had heard of Benjamin Cardozo but didn’t know much about him. It was a happy surprise the day I first stumbled upon the bronze sculpture of Cardozo on the third floor of the library. I took one look at the sculpture and thought, “he kind of looks like Conan O’Brien.” You can see the resemblance in the swoosh of hair sculptor Sergei Konenkov has fashioned.
The Law School acquired the bronze sculpture in July of 1932, during the deanship of Roscoe Pound. It is thanks to Pound that the school has much of its artwork representing English and early American legal figures. The sculpture is one of two by Konenkov in the collection, the other is of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., also located on the third floor of the Library.
Konenkov came to the United States at the end of 1923, as part of a New York exhibition of modern Russian artists. He remained in the U.S. for twenty years and through various friendships and admirers he went on to sculpt many subjects in the legal profession. In Portraits of the American Law, Frederick Voss suggests that Columbia Law professor Karl Llewellyn may have had the idea to commission Konenkov to do Cardozo’s portrait. According to Andrew Kaufman (Harvard Law professor and author of the definitive Cardozo biography), Cardozo wrote in a letter to his cousin, Annie Nathan Meyer (founder of Barnard College) on September 3, 1931, “My chief recreation was to sit for a sculptor.” Later correspondence indicated the bust was intended for Columbia Law School; there is no record of the bust ever going there.
I am thankful for whatever transpired to bring the wonderful sculpture here.