Abell to Offer Marble by First Female Professional Sculptor

19th century American artist Harriet Goodhue Hosmer was the first woman to break into the all-male world of neo-classical sculpture


Abell Auction Co. is proud to present the first quarterly auction of 2018 on February 11th. This sale will feature more than 500 lots of fine art, antiques, estate jewelry, modern and contemporary prints and multiples, decorative arts, Asian works of art and sterling silver holloware. One highlight of this sale is a finely sculpted Neoclassical marble depicting a sleeping faun, by the renowned 19th century American sculptor Harriet Goodhue Hosmer.

Born in 1830 in Watertown, Massachusetts, Hosmer was the first female to join the all-male world of professional sculpture of the mid-19th century. Hosmer credits her unconventional upbringing as a key factor of her independence. Her mother and three siblings all died of tuberculosis, making her father determined to raise a healthy, independent woman. He created an intense exercise regime for Hosmer, which included mountain climbing, shooting expeditions and long bicycle rides.

Her father’s goals were realized, as Hosmer became so independent that she was impossible to discipline. Her father decided that she should be sent away to a boarding school in Lenox, Massachusetts. At this liberal school, Hosmer met other future artists, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and English actress Fanny Kemble, who pushed Harriet to follow her passion of sculpting. Hosmer began studying sculpture in Boston, where she was also took private anatomy lessons, since as a woman she was denied entrance at the Boston Medical School.

At age 22, Hosmer completed her first major work, a bust of Hesper, in a home studio built by her father. After this success, Hosmer moved to Rome to study sculpture, where she received commissions from European royalty, who appreciated her “wild child” persona and originality. Hosmer dressed her petit figure in boyish clothes, wore a velvet beret, and became known for her midnight horseback rides while in Rome. While abroad Hosmer joined the other intellectuals of the Spanish Steps, including Nathaniel Hawthorne and Robert and Elizabeth Browning.

Hosmer became so successful in Europe that she was able to open her own studio in the 1860s, which included an entire staff of male stonecutters. She also designed and constructed machinery, and invented new techniques in sculpture, including a method of turning Italian limestone into marble. Hosmer spent the later years of her life living in British castles while she was commissioned to make portraits.

19th century women did not often have careers, especially as artist who went on to open their own studios abroad. Hosmer said of her unconventional lifestyle, “I honor every woman who has strength enough to step outside the beaten path when she feels that her walk lies in another; strength enough to stand up and be laughed at, if necessary.”

Harriet Goodhue Homer’s masterfully sculpted “Sleeping Faun” will go up for auction on February 11th at the Abell Auction Company gallery. Live bidding begins at 10 a.m. PST in the gallery and online at liveauctioneers.com. A full preview of the sale will take place from Wednesday, February 7th to Saturday, February 10th. Check abell.com for an auction catalog.