Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Harriet G. Hosmer 1860 ~ 1908

 

 
Harriet G. Hosmer

This famous American sculptor stands out in strong relief among those women of America who have attained distinction in this art. Miss Hosmer was born in Watertown, Massachusetts, October 9, 1830. Her mother died when she was quite young, and a sister also dying with the mother's disease, consumption, Dr. Hosmer determined that Harriet should develop physically before any great effort was made toward her education.

Her early life was accordingly spent in the woods and fields about their home and on the Charles River, which flowed near. She grew up like a boy. She was an eager reader and so her education was largely of self-made manner and opportunity. In the first school in which she was placed her brother-in-law, Nathaniel Hawthorne, was principal, but he did not hesitate to write her father, that he could do nothing with her, and she was placed in the care of Mrs. Sedgwick, who had a school at Lenox, Berkshire County.

Mrs. Sedgwick was a woman of great tact and breadth of mind, so she soon won Harriet's confidence, and she remained under Mrs. Sedgwick's care for three years. In her early youth she had shown a great fondness for modeling her pets and treasures of the field, and so was permitted to take up lessons in modeling, drawing, and anatomical studies in Boston. She applied to the Boston Medical School for a course of study in anatomy, but her admittance was refused on account of her sex. Later she gained admission to the Medical College of St. Louis, and Professor Macdowell spared no pains to give her every advantage. The life-size medallion which she cut of Professor Macdowell on the base of his bust done by Clevenger, is treasured up to this day by that college.

While in St Louis, she made her home with the family of a former friend and companion at Lenox, Wayman Crow, who proved a most valued friend, and who gave her the order for her first statue when she went to Rome as a student. On her return home Dr. Hosmer fitted up a studio for her and she did Canova's "Napoleon" in marble for her father. Her next work was an ideal bust of Hesper. Then she asked her father to permit her to go to Rome to study, as she wished to make this her life work, and on November 12, 1852, Dr. Hosmer and she arrived in Europe. She desired especially to become a student for a time under John Gibson, the leading English sculptor, and when he saw the photographs of her "Hesper," he consented to take her as a pupil, and for seven years she worked under his direction and encouragement.

She copied the "Cupid" of Praxiteles, and "Tasso" from the British Museum. Her first original work was "Daphne," then she produced her "Medusa." These were both accepted in Boston in 1853, and were much praised by Mr. Gibson. She also had the gratification of receiving words of approval from Rauch, the great Prussian sculptor, whose work of the beautiful Queen Louise at Charlottenburg is one of the famous pieces of sculpture of modem times. Later she did for Mr. Crow, "OEnone," and later "Beatrice Cenci," for the St. Louis Mercantile Library. Her father having lost his property and no longer being able to bear the expense of her studies, she determined to support herself by her own work. She took some modest apartments and disposed of all her luxuries and plunged into her work, the results of which have added to her fame. One of her pieces of work was entitled "Puck." This she duplicated for many crowned heads and distinguished people of many of the Continental countries. She did an exquisite figure upon the sarcophagus of the sixteen-year-old daughter of Madam Talconnet, who died in Rome.

Her statue of Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, was considered one of her greatest works. It was exhibited in Chicago at the Sanitary Fair in behalf of the soldiers, and from its exhibition Miss Hosmer received five thousand dollars. While on a visit to this country in 1860, she received an order from St Louis for a bronze portrait statue of Missouri famous statesman, Thomas Hart Benton, which was unveiled May 27, 1868, in Lafayette Park by Mrs. John C. Fremont, the daughter of Benton. For this work Miss Hosmer received the greatest praise and a substantial remuneration of ten thousand dollars. Orders now crowded upon her. Her "Sleeping Faun" is an exquisite piece of work, and was exhibited at the Dublin Exposition in 1865. Her "Siren fountain," executed for Lady Marian Alford, is one of her most artistic productions, and for many years prior to her death she was engaged in preparing a golden gateway for Ashridge Hall, England, ordered by Earl Brownlow. She did the statue of the beautiful Queen, of Naples, for which she received royal praise and approval Harriet Hosmer has placed the name of American women high among the sculptors of modern times. Her death in 1908 was a loss to the artistic world.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.

 

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