Harriet Hosmer, 1830-1908

  • Harriet-Hosmer-WWP

Woman Category: ArtsWoman Tags: Greater Boston Women, LGBTQ, and Sculptress

  • HerStory

    A neoclassical sculptress and the first American woman to achieve international recognition as a professional sculptor.

    Harriet Hosmer was born in Watertown, Massachusetts. By the age of 4, her mother and her three siblings died of tuberculosis. Her father, who was a physician, was determined that his only surviving child would be healthy and strong, and from a young age, Hosmer knew to ride, row, and skate. Her father also supported her artistic passion and built her a studio where she sculptured animals from clay. After high school, Hosmer decided to become a professional sculptor, which required both anatomy and art training. Not able to attend medical school and live modeling classes because of her gender, Hosmer took private lessons at the Medical Department of the state university (today the Missouri Medical College) and then studied sculpting with an artist in Boston.
    At 23, Hosmer realized that she would not be taken seriously as a sculptor in the US, and together with her girlfriend at the time, Charlotte Cushman, moved to Rome, Italy. There, she was accepted to the studio of the sculptor John Gibson and practiced live modeling. She joined a group of expatriate artists and writers that included Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Eliot, Bertel Thorvaldsen, and numerous American women such as Edmonia Lewis, Anne Whitney, and Vinnie Ream. Together they were known as the Sisterhood of American Lady Sculptors and as the White Marmorean Flock.
    Six months after she arrived in Rome, Hosmer received her first commission. Not long after, she began working on her first life-size sculpture of Oenone. In 1855, she created a sculpture of Puck, based on the character from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It became one of her most popular pieces, selling 50 copies, one of them to the prince of Wales (later Edward VII). Afterward, Hosmer became a well-known artist both in Europe and in the US, and by 1859, she had earned enough money and secured enough commissions to open a studio of her own and run her business independently.
    Influenced by the artistic trend of that time, Hosmer sculptured in the Neoclassical style, mostly depicting mythological figures, strong and courageous female characters, such as Daphne, Medusa, and Zenobia – the Queen of Palmyra. At the time, Hosmer met Louisa, Lady Ashburton, a Scottish philanthrope and art collector, who became her life partner for the next 25 years. The couple lived mainly in England, and Hosmer traveled between her studio in Kent and her studio in Rome.
    In the late 19th century, the neoclassical style fell out of fashion, and Hosmer became focused on designing and constructing new devices to convert limestone into marble, as well as inventing a modeling process in which the shape of the statue is made first in plaster, and the wax coating came second.
    In 1900, Hosmer returned to the US and settled in Chicago, where she befriended Susan B. Anthony and became involved with the women’s rights movement. Her last work, a sculpture of Queen Isabella of Castile, commissioned by her fellow members at the women’s suffrage group the Queen Isabella Association, was displayed at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
    In her last years, Hosmer lived in Watertown, Massachusetts, where she died, 78 years old, from respiratory disease. As a successful professional sculptor with international recognition, Hosmer created almost a hundred pieces and became one of the most independent women of her time. She made her mark in art history and paved the way for generations of women who became artists, especially sculptresses.

    “I honor every woman who has strength enough to step outside the beaten path when she feels that her walk lies in another.”

    “I honor every woman who has strength enough to step outside the beaten path when she feels that her walk lies in another.”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She was a cousin of poet William H. C. Hosmer and the actress Jean Hosmer.
    • When she traveled to Florence, she stayed as the guest of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning at Casa Guidi.
    • At 19, she traveled alone to the western wilderness and visited the Dakota Indians.
    • She won a footrace to the top of a mountain in Iowa, today called Mount Hosmer, in honor of her victory.
    • The WWII Liberty ship SS Harriet Hosmer was named in her honor.
    • Her sculptures are on display in museums and outdoor all over the world.
    • Her sculpture, Puck and Owl, is a stop on the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail.
    • Carole Simmons Oles’s poetry book is titled Waking Stone: Inventions on the Life Of Harriet Hosmer.
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  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • ARTH 4117 19th Century 4: Harriet Hosmer

    Art Historian Dr. Vida Hull
    ETSU Online Programs - http://www.etsu.edu/online
    Women Artists
    I4 19th Century Part 4YT

  • Courtesy of the Jeffrey Kraus Collection. Photo credit - Wikipedia