The Legacy of Felix de Weldon

U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial by Felix de Weldon

Felix Weihs de Weldon, age 96, died broke in the year 2003 after successive bankruptcies and accumulating $4 million dollars worth of debt.  Most of the debt was related to the high cost of love for a wife living with Alzheimer’s.  Health care costs to maintain his first wife, Margot, ran $500 per day. It was a sad ending to the life of one of America’s most renowned sculptors.  By 1955, Mr. Weldon was worth $8,000,000.00 and drove a Rolls Royce.  The money he earned came from the more than 1200 public sculptures that he created and installed in seven different nations to include Malaysia, England, Canada, and Mexico.  Thirty-two of his sculptures can be found in Washington, D.C. at government buildings and public parks.

His most famous work is the well known memorial to the U.S. Marines  and their hard fought hand to hand combat at the Battle of Iwo Jima.  The statue is based on the iconic photo taken by Joe Rosenthal on the morning of February 23, 1945 atop Mt. Suribachi.  Three of the Marines in the photograph were killed in the continuing action within days of the snapshot.

Famous photo by Joseph John Rosenthal, Raising the Flag on Iwo, Jima

Felix de Weldon’s statue, which took nine years to create, was installed in Arlington Ridge Park in Arlington, Virginia close to the Arlington National Cemetery. Its dedication ceremony was held on November 10, 1954.

Felix de Weldon was born in Vienna in the year of 1907 to a wealthy textile industrialist.  He took to art at the early age of six while attending Marchetti College, a private prepratory school where he studied art, history, anatomy, languages, and engineering.  At the age of 17, Felix received his first recognition for his sculpture of beloved diplomat and liberal professor Ludwig Moritz Hartmann (1865–1924).  He graduated from Marchetti at 18 with a B.A. degree.  He then received M.A. and M.S. degrees at the University of Vienna’s Academy of Creative Arts and School of Architecture in 1927 and a PhD in 1929 at the age of 22.  De Weldon then traveled around Europe working in artist communes in Italy, Spain and France.  He moved to London and received several serious commissions to include a portrait sculpture of George V.   De Weldon then traveled to Canada to do work on a portrait sculpture commission of Prim Minister Mackenzie King.  In 1937 he moved to the United States.  He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II obtaining the rank of Painter Second Class.  In 1945, at war end, Felix de Weldon became a U.S. citizen.

Felix de Weldon was appointed to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts by three American Presidents, Truman 1951, Eisenhower 1956, and JFK in 1961.  He knighted in 1959 by Queen Elizabeth for his service to the British Crown.

De Weldon (left) presents his bust of U.S. Navy Admiral of the Fleet Chester W. Nimitz to the Naval War College on 5 June 1964. President of the Naval War College Vice Admiral Bernard L. Austin (center) and retired U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Keller E. Rockey look on.

In 1951, De Weldon purchased the Beacon Rock estate in Newport, Rhode Island where he built a studio.  He lived there until 1996 at which time he became insolvent was forced to turn over the property.

Felix de Weldon died on June 3, 2003 at the age of 96, in Woodstock, Virginia and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

This essay will be updated at a future date with information related to the sale of his private collection that occurred in 2006.

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