The Wagner Bust is as German as any statute could be. Cast in bronze, mounted on a granite base, and situated on the lawn of the Rogers-Buchanan Mansion, the bust of German composer Richard Wagner was created by a German-born sculptor R.P. Golde based on a portrait by German painter Franz van Lenbach. Though the bust may seem out of place for visitors to Druid Hill Park today, the placement made perfect sense when the sculpture was created.
R.P. Golde was commissioned to create the bust as the first prize for Sängerfeste, an annual choral competition held that year in Brooklyn, New York, with five thousand performers attending. The United Singers of Baltimore won with their performance of D. Melamet’s “Scheiden” (“Parting”). The Singers, who believed that their victory and prize would add to Baltimore’s glory and beauty, donated the Wagner Bust to Druid Hill Park. The bust’s dedication ceremony was a grand affair. 30,000 spectators gathered in attendance on October 6, 1901, to watch L.H. Wieman, an agent representing the Baltimore branch of a national, Minneapolis-based flour company, present the bust to the City of Baltimore on behalf of the United Singers. The crowd watched as the Wagner Bust, draped in German and American flags and the singing societies’ banners, was unveiled. The ceremony and the bust’s placement on the mansion lawn served as an expression of Baltimore’s pride in its singers and the German immigrants pride in their heritage and their talent.
Baltimore was home to over 40,000 German immigrants at the start of the twentieth century. Monuments to German artists, philosophers, politicians, musicians, poets, and composers decorate the landscape of many major American cities. Memorials of composers were particularly popular in the era of immigrant monument-building, partly due to the importance of singing clubs in German-American communities.
The Wagner Bust points to the popularity of singing clubs in Baltimore, as does another sculpture by R.P. Golde, that of the composer Conradin Keutzer, located in Patterson Park and also won by the United Singers of Baltimore at the 1915 Sängerfeste.