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 Patience Lovell Wright  (1725 - 1786)

About: Patience Lovell Wright


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Lived/Active: New Jersey      Known for: sculptor-wax portrait bust

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Considered America's first professional sculptor, she was a uniquely independent and high spirited woman who was a friend of many prominent people of her time including Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin West. She modeled wax portraits of prestigious subjects including King George and Queen Charlotte in England and reportedly lectured the King, whom she called "Pharoah," about his mistreatment of the American colonies. Living in England, she acted as a spy for her homeland and sent secret information to America in the bodies of some of her wax figures.

Because of the precariousness of her medium, few of her works remain, but a full-length portrait of William Pitt is in the chapel of Westminster Abbey.

She was one of ten children of John Lovell, a prosperous Quaker farmer, who was a religious extremist, from Bordentown, New Jersey. The father required the family to dress only in pure white and the girls had to wear veils from sin. According to her stories later, the girls made up a fantasy world and made colorful paintings in secret from berry juices.

At age 20, she ran away from home to Philadelphia where she lived for several years and married Joseph Wright, who was older and a well to do cooper from her hometown. They lived in Bordentown, and she raised a family of three children while continuing to model in clay, an activity disdained by her husband.

When she was forty-four, her husband died and she had to support her family, which she did through portrait bust commissions, a business managed with her sister, Rachel Wells. Together they organized a waxworks show of personages by Patience that toured in Charleston and Philadelphia. Her life-like figures had highly realistic clothing, eyelashes, and skin color and were place in tableaus such as interior scenes.

In 1772, she sailed for England in search of distinguished subjects and settled near the Palace in an area where many artists had studios. She set up her waxwork show, which became an immediate sensation as did her political lectures and manner of treating royalty and visiting dignitaries from America as equals.

Like her aggressive personality, her working method was highly unusual. She worked the wax under her apron, warming it with the heat of her body and then would pull it out, astonishing her subject, and put the finishing touches on it.

She left England rather hastily during the Revolution at the height of being disdained for having announced that America would defeat England. She went to Paris where she modelled Benjamin Franklin, and then after the Revolution settled in England with her daughter, Phoebe, who was married to the portrait painter, John Hoppner. Her son, Joseph became a portrait painter, and her daughter, Elizabeth, a sculptor in wax who set up a waxworks show in America.

Source: "American Women Artists" by Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein

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