Sunday, February 7, 2021

White Marmorean Flock

I mentioned sculptor Vinnie Ream a while back. She was a member of a group of American women sculptors in Italy dubbed by Henry James as the "White Marmorean Flock." 

Statue of Thomas Hart Benton by Harriet Hosmer, Saint Louis, Missouri, 1868

The term refers to a group of expatriate women sculptors who worked in a classical style. The names include Louisa Lander, Harriet Hosmer, Anne Whitney, Emma Stebbins, Edmonia Lewis, Margaret Foley, Florence Freeman, and Vinnie Ream.

Zenobia in Chains by Harriet Hosmer (1830-1898)

In Italy they were able to exist independently from marital and domestic commitments that typically ended the budding careers of young women artists in America. 
Harriet Hosmer, surrounded by with her assistants and carvers in Rome

Harriet Hosmer was one of the first women to support herself fully on her income from sculpting. She said: "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."

Louisa Lander, sculpture of Virginia Dare of the lost colony of Roanoke, 1859
Related Previous Posts: 
The White Rabbits (Women Sculptors in Chicago)

Read more about the White Marmorean Flock:


Susan Krzywicki said...

The word 'marmorean' sounds like an animal - so I was expecting something about some sort of small mammal. How funny!

I like the idea of finding one's own form of freedom to pursue one's talents.

JvL said...

I do not think Henry James meant that as a compliment.
Was Italy that much more progressive on women's working rights, or was this group an anomaly there?

doug l said...

So the term "marmorean" refers to the qualities of marble; its smoothness, whiteness, and hardness, which I think would be a compliment, and certainly well deserved.

JvL said...

So, a flock of marble-white sheep? Except Edmonia Lewis.
I looked up the Smithsonian magazine's article on Lewis, and it had more context for James' description, which the Smithsonian calls an "epithet":

"Lewis was welcomed into the women's circle, described by Henry James as 'that strange sisterhood of American 'lady sculptors' who at one time settled upon the seven hills in a white, marmorean flock.'

" 'One of the sisterhood,' James continued in "William Wetmore Story and His Friends", 'was a negress, whose colour, picturesquely contrasting with that of her plastic material, was the pleading agent of her fame. . . ."

Predictably racist and misogynist context, apparently.