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 skill.

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, Cornelia Crow.

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 on them.

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 Medicine.

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 found here

Women And The Art World. 2nd ed. : Alpine Publishers, 1971.

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