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Bronze Bas Relief Portrait of Theodore Roosevelt: “Aggressive fighting for the right is the greatest sport the world affords”
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Roosevelt looks to the right and is wearing his signature pince-nez eyeglasses attached to his clothing by a thin cord, above one of the most famous epigrams attributed to him.

[THEODORE ROOSEVELT]. James Earle Fraser, Bas-Relief Portrait Plaque made of “medallium,” a type of bronze alloy of copper and tin, signed in the upper right corner. 1920. 10 x 11¾ in.

Inventory #27255       Price: $2,500

Historical Background
Since 1886, the U.S. Senate had commissioned busts of former vice presidents to display in the Senate wing of the Capitol. During the course of his work on a bust of Roosevelt in 1906, Fraser went to Washington to make “minute measurements of the president’s head.” When they met, Roosevelt remarked, “You are a much younger man than I expected, Mr. Fraser. It goes to show how merit must find its level, doesn’t it? It can’t be kept down. I asked Saint-Gaudens for the man who could do the job, with perfect confidence in his choice. The fact that he sent you proves that you are the man.” Fraser produced a bust of Roosevelt in his Rough Rider uniform, leaning forward with his pince-nez glasses on his nose. Although the president liked it, the Senate wanted a more stately portrayal of Roosevelt as vice president. Fraser sculpted a second bust for display in the Capitol. Based on his work on a bust of Roosevelt and his preparation of a death mask of the president in 1919, Fraser created this bas-relief portrait plaque in 1920.

The origins of the quotation on the plaque—“Aggressive fighting for the right is the greatest sport the world affords”—are obscure. It seems to have first appeared in print in the New York Times on October 9, 1898, in an article written by Cromwell Childe (1868-1941). Childe described “Roosevelt, the Man”: “In animated talk, which is to say always in talking, his teeth gleam like the combing surf above a reef—force, determination, eagerness to grapple an antagonist, all the flashing vitality of the man seems concentrated there. But with these there is the buoyant, pervading rightness of his nature, which is sound and obvious. You have the certainty that he takes a very serious view of life, its opportunities, its obligations; but not a gloomy one; narrow sometimes, but not selfish; pure, but not puritan, and that fighting—hard constant, aggressive fighting for the right—is the greatest sport the world affords.”

From 1920 to 1924, the Decorative Arts League sold copies of this plaque to libraries and schools across the country. A version appears on the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial in Asser Levy Park in Brooklyn, New York, dedicated in 1925.

James Earle Fraser(1876-1953) was born in Minnesota and grew up exposed to frontier life and the experience of Native Americans. He began carving figures from limestone quarried near his home in Mitchell, South Dakota. He attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1890 and later studied at the École de Beaux Arts and the Académe Julian in Paris. After serving as an assistant to Richard Bock and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, he opened his own studio in 1902. He taught at the Art Students League in New York City beginning in 1906 and later became the league’s director. In 1913, he married fellow sculptor Laura Gardin (1889-1966). In 1915, he created one of his most famous sculptures, End of the Trail, for the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco. Many of his works are on display in Washington, D.C., including statues of Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin at the U.S. Treasury Building. He also designed the World War I Victory Medal, the Navy Cross, and the Indian Head (Buffalo) nickel.

Condition: Exceptional patina.


  • Cromwell Childe, “Theodore Roosevelt, the Man,” New York Times, October 9, 1898, 2:?.
  • Perriton Maxwell, “Anecdotal Portrait of Col. Roosevelt,” New Voice (New York, NY), May 1899, seems to have included the statement as attributed to Roosevelt.
  • Referred to as an “epigram attributed to Theodore Roosevelt” as early as September 1901.

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