Harriet Hosmer

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Harriet Hosmer
Harriet hosmer.jpg
Born (1830-10-09)October 9, 1830
Watertown, Massachusetts
Died February 21, 1908(1908-02-21) (aged 77)
Watertown, Massachusetts
Nationality American
Known for Sculpture
Movement Neoclassicism

Harriet Goodhue Hosmer (October 9, 1830 – February 21, 1908) was a neoclassical sculptor, considered the most distinguished female sculptor in America during the 19th century. Among other technical innovations, she pioneered a process for turning limestone into marble. Hosmer once lived in an expatriate colony in Rome, befriending many prominent writers and artists.


Background and education[edit]

Harriet Hosmer, Engraving by Augustus Robin (1873)

Harriet Hosmer was born on October 9, 1830 at Watertown, Massachusetts, and completed a course of study at Sedgewick School[1] in Lenox, Massachusetts. She was a delicate child, and was encouraged by her father, physician Hiram Hosmer, to pursue a course of physical training by which she became expert in rowing, skating, and riding. She traveled alone in the wilderness of the western United States, and visited the Dakota Indians.[2][3]

She showed an early aptitude for modeling, and studied anatomy with her father. Through the influence of family friend Wayman Crow she attended the anatomical instruction of Dr. Joseph Nash McDowell at the Missouri Medical College (then the medical department of the state university).[4] She then studied in Boston and practiced modeling at home until November 1852, when, with her father and her friend Charlotte Cushman, she went to Rome, where from 1853 to 1860 she was the pupil of the Welsh sculptor John Gibson.[2]

When Hosmer knew herself to be a sculptor, she knew also that in America was no school for her. She must leave home, she must live where art could live. She might model her busts in clay of her own soil, but who should follow out in marble the delicate thought which the clay expressed? The workmen of Massachusetts tended the looms, built the railroads, and read the newspapers. The hard-handed men of Italy worked in marble from the designs put before them; one copied the leaves which the sculptor threw into the wreaths around the brows of his heroes; another turned with the tool the folds of the drapery; another wrought up the delicate tissues of the flesh; none of them dreamed of ideas - they were copyists - the very hand-work that her head needed. And to Italy she went...

— Maria Mitchell, c. 1857[5]

While living in Rome, she associated with a colony of artists and writers that included Nathaniel Hawthorne, Bertel Thorvaldsen, William Makepeace Thackeray, and the two female Georges, Eliot and Sand. When in Florence, she was frequently the guest of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning at Casa Guidi.

The artists included Anne Whitney, Emma Stebbins, Edmonia Lewis, Louisa Lander, Margaret Foley, Florence Freeman, and Vinnie Ream.[6] Hawthorne was clearly describing these in his novel The Marble Faun, causing Henry James to dismiss them as "The White Marmorean Flock". As Hosmer is now considered the most famous female sculptor of her time in America, she is credited with having 'led the flock' of other female sculptors.[7]

Later life[edit]

She also designed and constructed machinery, and devised new processes, especially in connection with sculpture, such as a method of converting the ordinary limestone of Italy into marble, and a process of modeling in which the rough shape of a statue is first made in plaster, on which a coating of wax is laid for working out the finer forms.[2]

Later Hosmer also resided in Chicago and Terre Haute, Indiana.

She was devoted for 25 years to Lady Ashburton, widow of Bingham Baring, 2nd Baron Ashburton (died 1864). Lady Ashburton was born Louisa Caroline Stewart-Mackenzie, youngest daughter of James Alexander Stewart-Mackenzie, and had one daughter, the Hon. Mary Florence ("Maisie"), born 1860 in London.[8]

Hosmer died at Watertown, Massachusetts, on February 21, 1908.


Hosmer Illustration 4.jpg

Harriet Hosmer has made her mark on art history and feminist and gender studies. In the 19th century women did not have careers, especially careers as sculptors, but Hosmer did not let that stop her. Women were not allowed to have the same art education as men, they were not trained in the making "great" art. Great as in, large history paintings, mythological and biblical scenes, modeling of figure, and most certainly not sculpture. Women were bound to artwork that could be done in their home, which consisted of still life, portraits, landscapes, and small scale carvings.[citation needed]

Harriet Hosmer took her life into her own hands. Since she was not allowed to attend art classes, because women working from a live model was forbidden, she took classes in anatomy to learn the human form. She even paid for private sculpture lessons. The biggest career move she made was moving to Rome to study art. Women in Europe had much more freedom than they did in America. Hosmer owned her own studio and ran her own business. She became a well-known artist in Rome, even receiving several commissions. All of these events show that Hosmer took control of her life and did not let her sex dictate her decisions. Women like Harriet Hosmer have become role models for feminist art historians, because Hosmer was a free thinker and way ahead of her time on issues of gender.[citation needed]

Selected works[edit]

H. G. Hosmer: Beatrice Cenci

Hosmer made both large and small scale works and also produced work to specific order. Her smaller works were frequently issued in multiples to accommodate demand.[9] Among her most popular were 'Beatrice Cenci', which exists in several versions.

  • Hesper, The Evening Star, her first original sculpture (1852)
  • Doctor McDowell, a portrait of a man who had a great impact on Hosmer's professional life (1852)
  • The Clasped Hands of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1853)
  • Daphne and Medusa, ideal heads (1853)
  • Puck (1855), a spirited and graceful conception which she copied for the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Hamilton and others[10]
  • Oenone (1855), her first life-sized figure, now in the Saint Louis Art Museum
  • Will-O-The-Wisp, three known variations (1856, 1858, 1864)
  • Beatrice Cenci (1857), for the St. Louis Mercantile Library
  • Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra (1857), Art Institute of Chicago
  • Lady Constance Talbot, "the only known Hosmer medallion that is a bas relief portrait of a woman" (1857)
  • Tomb of Judith Faconnet, the first American-made artwork that is now permanently installed in Sant'Andrea della Fratte (1857 - 1858)
  • The Fountain of the Hylas and the Water Nymphs (1858)
  • Zenobia (1859), owned by the St. Louis Art Museum in St. Louis, Missouri[11]
  • The Fountain of the Siren, her most well known fountain design (1861)
  • Thomas Hart Benton, the first public monument in the state of Missouri (1862)
  • Gate for an Art Gallery (1864)
  • A Sleeping Faun (1865) is now being displayed at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Another version is in Iveagh House, Dublin, see Homan Potterton, 'An American Sculpture at the Dublin Exhibition of 1865: Hariet Hosmer's Sleeping Faun', The Arts in Ireland Autumn 1973.
  • Portrait of Wayman Crow (1866), John Gibson (1866)
  • A Waking Faun; a bronze statue of Thomas H. Benton (1866 - 1867) for Lafayette Park, St. Louis. It was created as a companion to "The Sleeping Faun".
  • Lincoln Memorial, sometimes known as "Freedmen's Monument" (1867 - 1868)
  • Queen of Naples, "the second of the three full size statues of celebrated female sovereigns Hosmer chose to represent over the course of her career" [12] (1868)
  • Sentinel of Pompeii (1878)
  • Crerar Lincoln Memorial - The African Sibyl, made in attempt to win a Lincoln Memorial competition (1888 - 1896)
  • Bronze gates for the Earl of Brownlow's art gallery at Ashridge Hall.
  • The Staghound, commissioned by the Empress of Austria
  • Dolphin Fountain (1892), the male companion to Hosmer's The Mermaid's Cradle, Hosmer's only remaining complete fountain (1892 - 1893)
  • Queen Isabella of Castile, Hosmer's last known completed work that was commissioned by the Daughters of Isabella (1893)
  • An alternate Emancipation Memorial—designed but not constructed
  • Statues of the queen of Naples as the heroine of Gaeta, and of Queen Isabella of Spain for the Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893.


Mount Hosmer, near Lansing, Iowa is named after Hosmer; she won a footrace to the summit of the hill during a steamboat layover during the 1850s.[13]

A book of poetry, Waking Stone: Inventions on the Life Of Harriet Hosmer, by Carole Simmons Oles, was published in 2006.



  1. ^ "History". Lenox, MA. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainWilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1892). "Hosmer, Harriet". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. 
  3. ^ MacLean, Maggie. "Harriet Hosmer: One of the First Women Artists in the United States". CIvil War Women. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  4. ^ Hosmer, Harriet Goodhue (1912). Harriet Hosmer letters and memories. New York: Moffat, Yard and Company. p. 8. 
  5. ^ Wittmann, Otto (Spring 1952). "The Italian Experience (American Artists in Italy 1830-1875)". American Quarterly. 
  6. ^ Williams, Carla (2002). "Whitney, Anne". glbtq.com. Retrieved 2007-11-30. 
  7. ^ Cronin, Patricia. Harriet Hosmer • Lost and Found. 
  8. ^ Sherwood, Dolly. Harriet Hosmer, University of Missouri Press, pp.102-3; 270-3.
  9. ^ "Beatrice Cenci, (1857) by Harriet Hosmer :: The Collection :: Art Gallery NSW". nsw.gov.au. Retrieved 4 April 2015. 
  10. ^ "Puck on a toadstool, (circa 1856) by Harriet Hosmer :: The Collection :: Art Gallery NSW". nsw.gov.au. Retrieved 4 April 2015. 
  11. ^ Williams, Janette (March 6, 2008). "Gift helps Huntington acquire American art". Pasadena Star-News. 
  12. ^ Cronin, Patricia. Harriet Hosmer - Lost and Found. 
  13. ^ Sherwood, Dolly, ‘’Harriet Hosmer, American Sculptor: 1830-1908’’ University of Missouri Press, Columbia MO, 1991 p. 31


Further reading[edit]

  • Colbert, Charles. Harriet Hosmer and Spiritualism. American Art, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Autumn, 1996), pp. 28–49
  • Cronin, Patricia; preface by Maura Reilly and an essay by William H. Gerdts. (2009). Harriet Hosmer: Lost and Found, A Catalogue Raisonné. Milan: Edizioni Charta. ISBN 9788881587322.

External links[edit]