William Randolph Barbee

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William Randolph Barbee

William Randolph Barbee (January 17, 1818 – June 16, 1868[1]) was an American sculptor recognized for creating idealized, sentimental classical figures. Barbee's most notable works were the marble sculptures entitled Coquette and Fisher Girl.


The family descends from John Barbee, of French-Huguenot ancestry, who settled in Virginia.[2] Barbee was born in "Hawburg",[3] in a part of Culpeper County, Virginia, that later became Rappahannock County. (Alternatively, he was born near Luray in Page County).[4] He was one of the eleven children of Andrew Russell Barbee, Sr. (alternate: Andrew Russel Barbee, Sr.) and Nancy (née Britton) Barbee.[1][3] Andrew Sr. operated a toll road in the area through Thornton Gap and the Barbee family resided at a lodge at the edge of the road.[5]:51 His siblings included brothers George (b. 1811), Ely (b. 1812), Col. Gabriel Thomas (1814–1908), Lewis Conner (1821–1877), Dr. Andrew Russell, Jr. (1827–1903), and Joseph (b. 1832); and sisters Ellam (b. 1815), Mary (b. 1823), Maratha (b. 1828), Laurina Caroline (b. 1829), and Adaline Catherine (b. 1831).


He studied at Richmond College and began working in the offices of Barbee & Cunningham in Moorefield, West Virginia.[1] Upon the death of his father he assumed management of the toll road which his father had controlled.[5]:76

The grave of Barbee and his wife as it appeared in May, 2016

For a time he practiced law in Luray, Virginia, where he owned the Annie Printz House between 1853 and 1855. In the mid-1850s he moved to Florence, Italy, where he acquired a studio. Barbee's most notable works were marble sculptures entitled Coquette and Fisher Girl.[6] Fisher Girl can today be found in Smithsonian American Art Museum.[7] He also completed a plaster bust of James L. Orr, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.

Barbee returned to the United States in 1858. He had commenced working on a design for the pediment of the U.S. House of Representatives when the outbreak of the Civil War halted his plans. He also left two major works unfinished at his death, The Star of the West (a depiction of Pocahontas) and The Lost Pleiad. He died near Luray at a place known as "The Bower" and was buried in Green Hill Cemetery there in 1868.[8][9]

Personal life[edit]

Mary's Rock is said to be named for either Barbee's wife, Mary, or the daughter of Frances Thornton.[3][5] Barbee's son, Herbert, went on to become a sculptor as well;[3][10] he erected a bust of his father on location at the rock. Barbee was the nephew of General Patrick Henry Brittan, 10th Secretary of State of Alabama.[11]


Barbee's birthplace is denoted by a marker (Marker Number C 56.), erected 1972 by the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission, located at 38°39′38″N 78°19′14″W / 38.66056°N 78.32056°W / 38.66056; -78.32056 inside Shenandoah National Park on the border of Page County and Rappahannock County at the cross over of Lee Highway (U.S. 211) and Skyline Drive, several miles east of the town of Luray.[12]


  1. ^ a b c Wayland, John Walter (1969). A history of Shenandoah County, Virginia. Genealogical Publishing Com. p. 524. ISBN 978-0-8063-8011-7. Retrieved 23 August 2011. 
  2. ^ Miller, Thomas Condit; Maxwell, Hu (1913). West Virginia and its people (Now in the public domain. ed.). Lewis Historical Pub. Co. pp. 202–. Retrieved 23 August 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d Wayland, John Walter (1976). Twenty-five chapters on the Shenandoah Valley: to which is appended a concise history of the Civil War in the valley. C. J. Carrier Co. Retrieved 23 August 2011. 
  4. ^ Opitz, Glenn B., Mantle Fielding's Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers, Apollo Books, Poughkeepsie, NY, 1988
  5. ^ a b c Manning, Russ (31 March 2000). 75 Hikes in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park. The Mountaineers Books. ISBN 978-0-89886-635-3. Retrieved 23 August 2011. 
  6. ^ Ruffin, Edmund; Scarborough, William Kauffman (May 1972). The Diary of Edmund Ruffin: Toward independence, October 1856-April 1861. LSU Press. p. 244. ISBN 978-0-8071-0948-9. Retrieved 23 August 2011. 
  7. ^ "Fisher Girl". Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved 23 August 2011. 
  8. ^ Kneebone, J. T.; Bearss, S. B.; et al., eds. (1998). Dictionary of Virginia Biography. 1. Richmond: Library of Virginia. pp. 326–327. ISBN 0-88490-189-0. OCLC 247596559. 
  9. ^ "William Randolph Barbee". waymarking.com. Retrieved 24 August 2011. 
  10. ^ Fahlman, Betsy; Galt, Alexander; Art, Joseph and Margaret Muscarelle Museum of (1992). Spirit of the South: the sculpture of Alexander Galt, 1827-1863. Joseph and Margaret Muscarelle Museum of Art, College of William and Mary. Retrieved 23 August 2011. 
  11. ^ "Alabama Secretaries of State Patrick Henry Brittan". Alabama Department of Archives & History. September 24, 2009. Retrieved 24 August 2011. 
  12. ^ Salmon, John S.; Peters, Margaret T. (May 1994). A guidebook to Virginia's historical markers. Virginia. Dept. of Historic Resources, University of Virginia Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-8139-1491-6. Retrieved 23 August 2011. 

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