Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Vinnie Ream's Statue of Lincoln

To get a healing break from the images of chaos and violence in public spaces, I've been trying to take a minute to focus on the beauty of the art in the Capitol building, which I remember making a pilgrimage to see with the same kind of reverence that I have experienced in cathedrals.

A full-figure marble statue of Abraham Lincoln is one of the large sculptures in Statuary Hall, and there's a remarkable human story behind it.


The sculpture was commissioned by Congress from an 18-year-old young woman named Vinnie Ream.  According to the Capitol campus's art curators:

"Ream had previously shown her ability to depict the president in a bust that she created from life in Washington. Her selection, however, was accompanied by controversy because she was young, female, and had friendships with members of Congress."

She developed the sculpture first in plaster as was the practice. In the sculpture, Lincoln's right foot is forward and he's holding a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. His head is tilted forward with a serious expression. 

But Ream's sculpture was almost destroyed. During the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson in 1868, her family played host to Senator Edmund G. Ross. Ross was the Senator who broke with his party to vote against the removal President Andrew Johnson after he was impeached by the House. 

According to Wikipedia, "she was almost thrown out of the Capitol with her unfinished Lincoln statue, but the intervention of powerful New York sculptors prevented it."

Ream was a prodigious talent. She had trained with sculptor Clark Mills and with Luigi Majoli in Rome and with Léon Bonnat in Paris. She brought the Lincoln sculpt in Rome, where it was carved from Carrara marble with the assistance of Italian stone carvers. The finished statue was brought across the Atlantic and unveiled in 1871. 

After her early period of sculpting she had a 40 year gap in her productivity as she took on the obligations of being a wife and mother.

"When she married Lieutenant Richard Hoxie in 1878, he imposed restrictions on his wife's work as a sculptor. Their son, also named Richard, was born in 1883. In addition to her work in the U.S. Capitol, Ream's sculptures include her statue of Admiral David G. Farragut (1881) at the well-known Washington landmark, Farragut Square. Ream died in 1914 in Washington, D.C. Her grave in Arlington Cemetery is marked by a replica of her sculpture Sappho."

Wikipedia on Vinnie Ream

More from the Capitol campus's art curators

7 comments:

Susan Krzywicki said...

Soooo many things to think about in this post. Thank you for sharing it. That statue, in and of itself, is a beacon of calm.

Her life sounds like it may have been frustrating - the creative urge having to be sidelined.

And...18!!!

Steve Gilzow said...

Agree completely with Susan’s comment. In reading the linked Wikipedia biography, it’s fascinating to note Vinnie’s brother served in the Confederate army. Makes one consider how deep and enduring the polarization is in our country, manifesting in families.

willbrooks said...

God Bless America

Jim Douglas said...

Fascinating story and bio. How on earth did an 18-year-old artist get a sitting US President to agree to sit for a sculpted portrait... for five months... during a civil war?! I can't even get my wife to sit for a sketch portrait for 30 minutes! haha

Celia said...

Incredible story. I'm ashamed to say I had no idea this girl did this. Underappreciated doesn't even begin to tell her story.

doforanimals said...

What an amazing piece of art, especially from an 18-year-old! Heartbreaking and infuriating that she 'had' to put her art on hold for so many years... "When she married Lieutenant Richard Hoxie in 1878, he imposed restrictions on his wife's work as a sculptor." What a waste of talent.

Michael Patriciaa said...
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