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Harriet Hosmer

A Cultural Biography

Kate Culkin

Publication Year: 2010

Harriet Hosmer (1830–1908) was celebrated as one of the country's most respected artists, credited with opening the field of sculpture to women and cited as a model of female ability and American refinement. In this biographical study, Kate Culkin explores Hosmer's life and work and places her in the context of a notable group of expatriate writers and artists who gathered in Rome in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1852 Hosmer moved from Boston to Rome, where she shared a house with actress Charlotte Cushman and soon formed close friendships with such prominent expatriates as Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and fellow sculptors John Gibson, Emma Stebbins, and William Wetmore Story. References to Hosmer or characters inspired by her appear in the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, and Kate Field among others. Culkin argues that Hosmer's success was made possible by her extensive network of supporters, including her famous friends, boosters of American gentility, and women's rights advocates. This unlikely coalition, along with her talent, ambition, and careful maintenance of her public profile, ultimately brought her great acclaim. Culkin also addresses Hosmer's critique of women's position in nineteenth-century culture through her sculpture, women's rights advocates' use of high art to promote their cause, the role Hosmer's relationships with women played in her life and success, and the complex position a female artist occupied within a country increasingly interested in proving its gentility.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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Title Page

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p. iii

Copyright Page

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p. iv

Table of Contents

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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

This book is in part the story of how a large network of people helped Harriet Hosmer achieve success. On a much smaller scale, the same is true of this project. I am grateful to have this opportunity to thank those who have helped this biography see the light of day. I first began to write about American women in Italy in David Littlefield’s junior seminar as an English major at Middlebury College. That wonderful ...

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Introduction: A Woman of Her Time

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pp. 1-5

The American sculptor Harriet Hosmer rode through the gates of Rome on November 12, 1852. She was just twenty-two, and as proof of her talent she carried only a daguerreotype of her bust Hesper, the Evening Star and anatomical illustrations she had drafted while studying at St. Louis Medical College. A mere five years later, the New York Times raved of her statue ...

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Chapter One: “She Will Do Much for the Cause of Womanhood”

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pp. 6-27

"Helen and Harriet are hearty,” Sarah Grant Hosmer wrote of her daughters in 1834, adding, “They go to school daily, learn very well.”1 Sarah’s father was one of the founders of Walpole Academy in New Hampshire, and she valued education for daughters as well as sons. Harriet, lively and out going, soon took to walking to school with a small black dog decked out with bells. ...

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Chapter Two: “The Conception of the Statue Is Masterly”

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pp. 28-54

"More than ten miles from the Eternal City, we caught a view of St. Peter’s, looming up like a small mountain, and every heart stood still at the sight,” Grace Greenwood wrote of the moment Harriet first saw Rome.1 The carriage was full: along with Grace Greenwood and Harriet, there was Hiram Hosmer, Charlotte Cushman, Matilda Hays, Cushman’s longtime ...

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Chapter Three: “Her Whole Soul Was Filled with Zenobia”

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pp. 55-82

The success of Beatrice Cenci was not enough to satisfy Harriet. She soon began to work on a piece that was to be more ambitious—in size and in message—than anything she had done before. The artist once again chose as a subject a woman both victimized and powerful: Zenobia, the third- century queen of Palmyra (in what is now Syria), who ruled the country ...

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Chapter Four: “It Will Be a Manly Work”

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pp. 83-94

ALTHOUGH Zenobia—and the scandal surrounding it—is the most famous element of Harriet’s career, the queen was far from the only work that occupied her during the first half of the 1860s. For a time, it looked as if the memorial to Missouri politician Thomas Hart Benton would be what would secure her legacy. The artist began angling for the project as soon plans for ...

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Chapter Five: “Female Sculptors Have Ceased to Be a Novelty”

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pp. 95-110

The second half of the 1860s marked a critical period of readjustment for Harriet. As a result of the Zenobia accusation she had begun to realize the dangers of allowing her work to appear too political. The uncertain fate of the Benton statue in the wake of the Civil War reinforced this lesson. Her home life was in flux as she faced the reality of the relationship between ...

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Chapter Six: “Something Has Come into Our Love”

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pp. 111-135

The 1860s were a volatile time for Harriet, marked by great success, stinging accusations, and disappointing failure. As the decade drew to a close, she found her life once again in flux. New relationships began, important friendships ended, and Rome changed forever. The artist attempted to adapt to the new world around her, shifting her attention from art to science and ...

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Chapter Seven: “The Isabella Road Has Been the Longest”

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pp. 136-159

In 1888, two decades after her last trip to the United States, Harriet decided to return to her home country. The New York Herald reported that on June 17, “One of the first passengers to leave the Umbria was a little, dark complexioned lady, wearing a plush coat, despite the sultry atmosphere, and carrying a heavy valise. . . . The lady was Harriet Hosmer.”1 She told the ...

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Chapter Eight: “One of the ‘Old Guard’ of Feminine Progress”

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pp. 160-168

In 1896 Harriet headed westward once again. While still spending time in Chicago, she settled primarily in Terre Haute, Indiana, living with her widowed cousin Sarah Fuller. The daughter of Hiram Hosmer’s sister Isabella, Sarah had been married to Charles Fuller, superintendent of bridges for the Terre Haute & Indianapolis Railroad. The women knew each other as childen...


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pp. 169-210


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pp. 211-219

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613760154
E-ISBN-10: 1613760159
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558498389
Print-ISBN-10: 1558498389

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 30 illustrations in 16 page gallery
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 794700490
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Harriet Hosmer

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Subject Headings

  • Expatriate sculptors -- Italy -- Rome -- Biography.
  • Women sculptors -- United States -- Biography
  • Sculptors -- United States -- Biography.
  • Hosmer, Harriet Goodhue, 1830-1908.
  • Art and society -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
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