Harriet Hosmer was born, received her education, and died in America.
However, Harriet spent the majority of her life in Rome. She brought great honor, not only to her country, but to her sex, through her glorious work as a
sculptor. She demonstrated to the world that Americans and women can
sculpt as well as any man. This belief caused a great controversy in her
career, one that she was able to overcome.
Born Harriet Goodhue Hosmer, in 1830, in Watertown, Massachusetts, Harriet
led a very active life as a young child. This was due to her father, who
was a physician, encouraging her to play outside as much as possible.
Harriet's mother and older sister both died of tuberculosis. Harriet's
father's recommendations led Harriet to become very athletic. She
participated in sports such as:
All of the time that Harriet spent outdoors allowed her to learn and study
animal life. Although she was still a child, she began to make clay models
of the animals she would see while she was playing in a clay pit, located very
near her home. All of this outdoor play kept her physically fit, which
would help her later in her career, as the mallet she would use in her sculptures weighed four pounds, and she would often be swinging it for over
eight hours a day.
In 1849, Harriet completed her education in Lenox, Massachusetts. This
is where the first influence on her artwork happened. She was influenced
by some of the great women artists of the 19th Century, including Harriet
Martineau, and Fanny Kemble.
Harriet would travel to St. Louis, in 1850, to visit one of her friends from
school, Cornelia Crow. Cornelia's father was the founder of Washington University School of Medicine. While in St. Louis, Harriet enrolled in an
anatomy class at Missouri Medical College (now known as Washington University
School of Medicine). This move had two purposes. One was to receive
a good education. The second, was so she could study human anatomy that
would help her in her sculpting.
In 1851, Harriet returned to Watertown, after she completed her anatomy class
and received her certificate. This was an accomplishment for Harriet.
It made her the first woman allowed to study anatomy at Washington University.
From 1851 to August of 1852, Harriet worked out of her home studio. She
created several works during this time. One was a medallion she made as a
gift for her anatomy instructor at the college, Dr. McDowell. Her other
creations include a gift for her father, which is a bust of Napoleon, a bust of
Hesper, who was a mythological maiden. This was her first original work
inspired by a poem written by Tennyson.
In September of 1852, Harriet would leave for Rome where she would arrive in
mid-November. Harriet would share a residence with Matilda Hayes, Grace
Greenwood, and Charlotte Cushman. Not long after arriving in Rome, Harriet
became the pupil of the English sculptor, John Gibson. She would train and
work in his studio where he had her copying masterpieces to help her develop her
In 1853, Harriet completed her first original work since arriving in Rome,
titled "Daphne". She made two copies. One was to be displayed in
Gibson's studio, and the other was sent to her friend from her hometown,
In 1854, Harriet created a companion piece to "Daphne" titled "Medusa".
This piece was shipped to Boston, where it was put on exhibition and was bought
by Samuel Appleton.
Wayman Crow, (founder of Washington University School of Medicine),
commissioned Harriet in 1855, for a full-length, life-size figure inspired by
Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "Oenone".
In the summer of 1855, after finishing the "Oenone", Harriet would create
"Models Puck". This sculpture brought her the most money and fame of all
her works. It was purchased by Prince Edward VII, in 1859.
Alfred Vinton, who was chairman of the board of directors at the St. Louis
Mercantile Library, commissioned Harriet to sculpt Beatrice Cenci after viewing
the "Oenone" sculpture she sent to Wayman Crow. She received an
invitation to display "Beatrice Cenci" at the Royal Academy in London.
During the spring of 1858, Nathaniel Hawthorne was visiting John Gibson's
studio and met Harriet, where they quickly became friends. Hawthorne and
his family would return to visit Harriet often. When they met, Harriet was
working on a sculpture titled "Zenobia in Chains". Hawthorne mentions this
in the preface of "The Marble Faun".
Harriet would take her sculpture, "Zenobia in Chains", to New York in the
summer of 1864. While it was on display, it was purchased by Almon
Griswold. Harriet would return to Rome in November of that year.
Griswold would exhibit "Zenobia in Chains" at the Jenks Art Gallery in Boston.
This exhibition drew a record-breaking crowd.
In the latter part of 1864, Harriet's work came under fire. Many art
critics as well as male sculptors claimed that her sculptures were actually
created by her male assistants. Harriet responded by filing a libel suit
against those who made the claims and in her defense she wrote a step-by-step
article for the magazine "The Atlantic Monthly". Her article titled "The
Process of Sculpture", gave an in depth and very detailed description of the
sculptural process, and was used by many marble sculptors who ran large studios
to dispel the claims that Harriet did not do her own work. Coming to her
defense, John Gibson told the art world that when Harriet was his student,
people often asked if he was doing the sculptures and letting her put her name
Harriet concentrated her energy into self-defense. She would publish a poem
using satire about the chauvinism of male artists, in the New York Evening Post,
titled "The Doleful Ditty of the Roman Caffe Greco".
In 1868, Harriet's statue of Thomas Hart Benton was put on display in
Lafayette Park, in St. Louis. Later that year, Harriet presented Wayman
Crow with a bust she made of him as a gift for Washington University School of
Harriet received a commission by the Chicago Group, the Daughters of Isabella for a sculpture titled "Isabella of Castille". This would be
displayed at the World's Columbian Expo in Chicago.
Harriet continued creating sculptures until February 21, 1908, when she
passed away in Watertown, Massachusetts.
More information on other lesser known female artists can be
Women And The Art World. 2nd
ed. : Alpine Publishers, 1971.