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Harriet Hosmer

Harriet Hosmer: A Cultural Biography

Kate Culkin
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Harriet Hosmer
    Book Description:

    Harriet Hosmer (1830–1908) was celebrated as one of the country's most respected artists, credited with opening the field of sculpture to women and cited as a model of female ability and American refinement. In this biographical study, Kate Culkin explores Hosmer's life and work and places her in the context of a notable group of expatriate writers and artists who gathered in Rome in the midnineteenth century. In 1852 Hosmer moved from Boston to Rome, where she shared a house with actress Charlotte Cushman and soon formed close friendships with such prominent expatriates as Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and fellow sculptors John Gibson, Emma Stebbins, and William Wetmore Story. References to Hosmer or characters inspired by her appear in the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, and Kate Field among others. Culkin argues that Hosmer's success was made possible by her extensive network of supporters, including her famous friends, boosters of American gentility, and women's rights advocates. This unlikely coalition, along with her talent, ambition, and careful maintenance of her public profile, ultimately brought her great acclaim. Culkin also addresses Hosmer's critique of women's position in nineteenthcentury culture through her sculpture, women's rights advocates' use of high art to promote their cause, the role Hosmer's relationships with women played in her life and success, and the complex position a female artist occupied within a country increasingly interested in proving its gentility.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-015-4
    Subjects: Sociology, History, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction: A Woman of Her Time
    (pp. 1-5)

    The American sculptor Harriet Hosmer rode through the gates of Rome on November 12, 1852. She was just twenty-two, and as proof of her talent she carried only a daguerreotype of her bustHesper, the Evening Starand anatomical illustrations she had drafted while studying at St. Louis Medical College. A mere five years later, theNew York Timesraved of her statueBeatrice Cenci,“The conception of the statue is masterly . . . it is exceedingly bold and original without being overstrained and striking without being affected.”¹ In 1865 thousands of people streamed through a Boston gallery to...

  6. CHAPTER ONE “She Will Do Much for the Cause of Womanhood”
    (pp. 6-27)

    “Helen and Harriet are hearty,” Sarah Grant Hosmer wrote of her daughters in 1834, adding, “They go to school daily, learn very well.”¹ Sarah’s father was one of the founders of Walpole Academy in New Hampshire, and she valued education for daughters as well as sons. Harriet, lively and out going, soon took to walking to school with a small black dog decked out with bells. Her friend and supporter Lydia Maria Child would later claim, “She received many a smiling salutation as she passed; and to questions asked about herself or dog, she always had a frank and ready...

  7. CHAPTER TWO “The Conception of the Statue Is Masterly”
    (pp. 28-54)

    “More than ten miles from the Eternal City, we caught a view of St. Peter’s, looming up like a small mountain, and every heart stood still at the sight,” Grace Greenwood wrote of the moment Harriet first saw Rome.¹ The carriage was full: along with Grace Greenwood and Harriet, there was Hiram Hosmer, Charlotte Cushman, Matilda Hays, Cushman’s longtime maid Sallie Mercer, Virginia Vaughan (Harriet’s friend from the Sedgwick School), and a woman named Miss Smith.² It was November 12, 1852, just a month after the sculptor’s twenty-second birthday, and she had finally reached the city she dreamed would bring...

  8. CHAPTER THREE “Her Whole Soul Was Filled with Zenobia”
    (pp. 55-82)

    The success ofBeatrice Cenciwas not enough to satisfy Harriet. She soon began to work on a piece that was to be more ambitious—in size and in message—than anything she had done before. The artist once again chose as a subject a woman both victimized and powerful: Zenobia, the third-century queen of Palmyra (in what is now Syria), who ruled the country following her husband’s death as regent for her son. In A.D. 270, she commanded her army to attack the Roman province of Arabia (now Israel and Jordan), then Egypt. She was taken prisoner by the...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR “It Will Be a Manly Work”
    (pp. 83-94)

    AlthoughZenobia—and the scandal surrounding it—is the most famous element of Harriet’s career, the queen was far from the only work that occupied her during the first half of the 1860s. For a time, it looked as if the memorial to Missouri politician Thomas Hart Benton would be what would secure her legacy. The artist began angling for the project as soon plans for the memorial were announced, immediately after Benton died in April 1858. The committee for the project was made up of St. Louis’s civic leaders, Way-man Crow among them. A young female artist from the...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE “Female Sculptors Have Ceased to Be a Novelty”
    (pp. 95-110)

    The second half of the 1860s marked a critical period of readjustment for Harriet. As a result of theZenobiaaccusation she had begun to realize the dangers of allowing her work to appear too political. The uncertain fate of the Benton statue in the wake of the Civil War reinforced this lesson. Her home life was in flux as she faced the reality of the relationship between Charlotte Cushman and Emma Stebbins and how it influenced her professional as well as her personal life. Harriet also had to confront competition from other female artists who gathered in Rome. At...

  11. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  12. CHAPTER SIX “Something Has Come into Our Love”
    (pp. 111-135)

    The 1860s were a volatile time for Harriet, marked by great success, stinging accusations, and disappointing failure. As the decade drew to a close, she found her life once again in flux. New relationships began, important friendships ended, and Rome changed forever. The artist attempted to adapt to the new world around her, shifting her attention from art to science and inventions. Even as she embraced scientific thought, however, her belief in spiritualism influenced her actions more than ever.

    Political developments in Italy had a dramatic effect on Harriet’s life. Soon after moving there, she had declared, “After one has...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN “The Isabella Road Has Been the Longest”
    (pp. 136-159)

    In 1888, two decades after her last trip to the United States, Harriet decided to return to her home country. TheNew York Heraldreported that on June 17, “One of the first passengers to leave the Umbria was a little, dark complexioned lady, wearing a plush coat, despite the sultry atmosphere, and carrying a heavy valise. . . . The lady was Harriet Hosmer.”¹ She told the paper she had come back to the United States to complete a set of doors for a public library, a project that was never finished. She may have also needed a break...

  14. CHAPTER EIGHT “One of the ‘Old Guard’ of Feminine Progress”
    (pp. 160-168)

    In 1896 Harriet headed westward once again. While still spending time in Chicago, she settled primarily in Terre Haute, Indiana, living with her widowed cousin Sarah Fuller. The daughter of Hiram Hosmer’s sister Isabella, Sarah had been married to Charles Fuller, superintendent of bridges for the Terre Haute & Indianapolis Railroad. The women knew each other as children, and had reunited in 1889, on Harriet’s extended visit to the United States. The sculptor moved to Terre Haute high on the success ofIsabellaand her participation in Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s birthday celebration, but her career almost immediately took another turn....

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 169-210)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 211-219)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 220-220)