Dumbarton Oaks, Evermay, and the Carl Milles Fountain
James N. Carder (June 2014)
When Robert Woods Bliss was U.S. minister to Sweden from 1923 to 1927, he and Mildred Bliss became friends with the sculptor Carl Milles (1875–1955), and they commissioned a black granite fountain for possible installation at Dumbarton Oaks. The fountain design, sometimes referred to as “Lotus,” was modeled on the sculpture base that Milles had designed for his 1916 bronze sculpture, Small Triton , which the Blisses had seen at his home in Stockholm, now the Millesgården Museum.
After the fountain arrived from Sweden, the Blisses had difficulty incorporating it in the Dumbarton Oaks gardens, and it was never installed. Eventually, they sent it to the National Gallery, but it could not be placed there either. Correspondence preserved in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives chronicles the eventual disposition of the fountain. In 1959, Ferdinand Lammot Belin (1881–1961), the owner of the Georgetown property Evermay, inquired about purchasing the sculpture from the Blisses. Bliss wrote Belin on February 23, 1959:
Regarding the Milles fountain, it has been a real disappointment that we could not, as we had originally hoped when ordering it, place it anywhere in the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks. It was made by Milles on our specifications. It has been a disappointment also that the National Gallery cannot use it, so we have finally decided to dispose of it. If you are interested in acquiring it for “Evermay,” we would be glad to let you have it for what it cost.”
Belin eventually wrote back on November 21, 1959:
In your letter of February 23, 1959, you stated, that Mildred and you had finally decided to dispose of [the Milles fountain]. You probably know that I have torn down the sunroom at Evermay and am building a new wing to match the present west wing. When this is completed there will be a courtyard between the wings in front of the front door. I think that the Milles fountain would fit in there and that it would be a site worthy of the fountain.
Bliss replied on November 24:
Regarding the Milles fountain, it would give Mildred and me much pleasure to know that it was to find a permanent home at Evermay. We are not only disappointed, but are really distressed that we did not find a place for it at Dumbarton Oaks. When we ordered it from that most enchanting artist, Carl Milles, we thought, of course, it would be easy to place it at D.O., but it just does not seem to go. So, as I say, we would be happy to be able to peek at it from time to time through your front gates.
The Blisses also owned a photographic reproduction of a 1948 pastel portrait of Carl Milles made by his wife, the artist Olga Milles.