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 James Wilson MacDonald  (1824 - 1908)

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Lived/Active: New York/Missouri/Ohio      Known for: portrait sculpture, landscape and portrait painting

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Ad Code: 3
James Wilson MacDonald
from Auction House Records.
George Washington
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Primarily a sculptor but also a painter of landscapes and portraits, James Wilson MacDonald was described as "a colorful figure in New York art circles. . .who wrote art criticism and lectured on anatomy and ancient monuments.  When he died in 1908 in Yonkers, New York, just before his eight-fourth birthday, his obituary in the New York Times called him 'America's oldest sculptor."

He was credited as the carver* of the "first marble portrait cut west of the Mississippi" (103).  The subject was Senator Thomas Hart Benton, and it was displayed at the Saint Louis Mercantile Library Association.  Also in bronze, he did many public portraits of prominent Americans such as General George Custer for West Point Academy, his most ambitious project; Washington Irving for Prospect Park in Brooklyn; and poet Fitz-Greene Halleck for Central Park in New York City.  Also from the original model by Houdon of George Washington, MacDonald made money by selling bronze copies.

He was born in Steubenville, Ohio, and as a young man, moved to St. Louis, Missouri where he took work as a sewing machine company salesman to escape being the blacksmith that his father had chosen for his career.  In St. Louis, he also worked for a publishing firm for eleven years, becoming a senior partner, and at night he studied art with Alfred Waugh (1810-1856), a portrait painter and sculptor.  Just after the Civil War, he moved with his family to New York City where he spent the remainder of his life.

Although he worked in a Neo-Classical* style, he, unlike many of the successful sculptors of his era, did not study in Italy.  However, he spent time with Hiram Powers, procured Italian marble, and give his work titles influenced by the Neo-Classical tradition such as Italia and Somnambula.

Lauretta Dimmick, "James Wilson Alexander MacDonald", American Sculpture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Volume I, A Catalogue of Artists Born Before 1865, Thayer Tolles, Editor

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