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 Harriet Goodhue Hosmer  (1830 - 1908)

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts / Italy      Known for: sculptor-idealized figure

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BIOGRAPHY for Harriet Goodhue Hosmer
1830 (Watertown, Massachusetts)
1908 (Watertown, Massachusetts)

Massachusetts / Italy

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sculptor-idealized figure

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Painters of Nudes
Women Artists
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Harriet Hosmer, a highly famous sculptor of the nineteenth century, was the first woman to break into the all-male world of neo-classical sculpture, a situation that caused her much torment and teasing. She also determined not to marry, convinced that a talented woman had to choose between being a wife and mother and a professional and that it was not possible to do a good job of both.

Hosmer was raised in Watertown, Massachusetts by an indulgent father in a family where the mother and three other children had died of tuberculosis. He was determined to save this daughter and established a rigorous exercise program that included mountain climbing (a peak in Missouri is named for her) long bicycle rides, and shooting expeditions.

As a result of these physical challenges, she was a much more active and independent child than most of her peers, but she was so difficult to discipline that her father sent her to a school called Mrs. Sedgewick's in Lenox, Massachusetts. It was a liberal school, and she met many unique people including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Fanny Kemble, an English actress, who befriended Hosmer and encouraged her to become a sculptress.

Hosmer went to Boston to study sculpture and was specially helped by Dr. Wayman Crow, who arranged for her to live with a family in Missouri and take private anatomy lessons because, as a woman, she had been denied this study at the Boston Medical School.

Returning to Watertown, she occupied a studio built for her at home by her father, and at age 22, she completed her first major work, a neoclassical bust of Hesper. A friend who appreciated the quality of the work encouraged her to study in Rome, and she enrolled in classes by John Gibson, an important British sculptor living there.

She received many commissions from European royalty who overlooked her rough manners and appreciated her as the original, wild-living character she was. Hosmer was small, dressed in boyish clothes, wore a velvet beret, and was known for her midnight rides on horseback. She became part of the Spanish Steps intellectuals that included writers Robert and Elizabeth Browning, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and sculptors Anne Whitney, Emma Stebbins and Edmonia Lewis.

Meanwhile, her father was having financial problems and asked her to return home, but she decided to stay and support herself. She was so successful that she opened a palatial studio and hired a staff of male stonecutters. She did much archaeological research for her sculptures that were mostly depicting of Greek and Roman mythology. She also did a cast of the bronze hands of the Brownings and a large statue of "Senator Thomas Hart Benton" of Missouri. Unveiled in Lafayette Park in St. Louis in 1868, it became one of the last public-figure sculptures draped in classical garb.

However, Hosmer insisted on retaining the neo-classical style even though realism was beginning to take hold. She spent her later years living in British castles filling portrait commissions, but her popularity waned after the Civil War. She did create a large statue of Queen Isabella for the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, and spent much time indulging her interest in science by designing perpetual motion machines.

Source: "American Women Artists" by Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein

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