Hosmer, Harriet Goodhue, 1830-1908Variant names
Harriet Hosmer was born on October 9, 1830 at Watertown, Massachusetts, and completed a course of study at Sedgewick School in Lenox, Massachusetts. Her mother and three siblings died during her childhood. 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. He also encouraged her artistic passion. She traveled alone in the wilderness of the western United States, and visited the Dakota Indians.
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). She then studied in Boston and practiced modeling at home until November 1852, when, with her father and her lover Charlotte Cushman, she went to Rome, where from 1853 to 1860 she was the pupil of the Welsh sculptor John Gibson, and she was finally allowed to study live models.
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. Hawthorne was clearly describing these in his novel The Marble Faun, and Henry James called them a "sisterhood of American ‘lady sculptors'." 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.
Hosmer was drawn to the Neoclassical style, which was easy to study given her presence in Rome. She enjoyed studying mythology, and she created various representations of mythological icons, such as the sculpture of The Sleeping Faun, which includes intricate details of elements such as his hair, the grapes, and the cloth draped over him.
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.
Hosmer exhibited her sculpture of Queen Isabella, commissioned by the Queen Isabella Association, in the California State Building at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. The statue was exhibited again in 1894 at the California Midwinter International Exposition.
For 25 years she was romantically involved with Louisa, Lady Ashburton, widow of Bingham Baring, 2nd Baron Ashburton (died 1864). Lady Ashburton provided Harriet a studio close to the Ashburton home in Knightsbridge, London.
Hosmer died at Watertown, Massachusetts, on February 21, 1908, and is buried in the family plot at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge. Aside from the work she produced, Harriet Hosmer made her mark on art history and feminist and gender studies. As the National Museum of Women in the Arts put it, "Harriet Goodhue Hosmer defied 19th-century social convention by becoming a successful sculptor of large scale, Neoclassical works in marble."
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