Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Harriet Hosmer

Born this day in 1830: Harriet Hosmer (1830–1908), prominent sculptor of her time who studied in Rome and was the darling of the English and American expatriates there.

Raised alone by her father after the deaths of her mother and siblings, Hosmer experienced an unusual childhood for a girl of the nineteenth century living in Watertown, Massachusetts. Her father, wishing to build her strength, kept her active hiking, riding, swimming, skating, and shooting. The free-spirited Harriet seemed a bit too wild, so at age 15 she was sent to the exclusive Mrs. Charles Sedgwick’s Young Ladies’ School in Lenox, Massachusetts. There she demonstrated a talent for modeling in clay and was encouraged to pursue sculpting.
Hosmer could not find a medical school in the east that would allow her, because of her sex, to attend the necessary anatomy classes. Through connections she found a doctor in St. Louis who agreed to give her private lessons.
By 1852 she was off to Rome, blazing a trail for women sculptors. There she studied under the English sculptor John Gibson. Irrepressible, unconventional, and often sporting men’s clothing, Hosmer made many friends among the most celebrated American and English expatriates, including Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browing. She was regarded as eccentric, and genuinely so, even among her friends. Elizabeth Barrett Browning once described Hosmer as
the young American sculptress, who is a great pet of mine and of Robert’s, and who emancipates the eccentric life of a perfectly “emancipated female from all shadow of blame by the purity of hers. She lives here all alone (at twenty-two); dines and breakfasts at the cafés precisely as a young man would; works from six o’clock in the morning till night, as a great artist must, and this with an absence of pretension and simplicity of manners which accord rather with the childish dimples in her rosy cheeks than with her broad forehead and high aims.
Perhaps most usual for a woman at the time was the fact that she was able to support herself as a professional sculptor. She made her splash in the art world in 1857 with Puck, an amusing work that was reproduced upwards of 50 times. She became one of the most successful sculptors of her day and kept a studio of stone-cutters busy. Some of her most celebrated works include Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra; Sleeping Faun; Browning Hands; Death of the Dryads; Siren Fountain; and Heroine of Gaeta.

Sleeping Faun


  1. The photo of Hosmer, by the way, was taken by Mathew Brady in 1857.

  2. It's great to see a local woman featured here. The description of her by Elizabeth Barrett Browning is so vivid! We really get to know Hosmer from this post.