Thomas Ball


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Sculptor and painter. Best known for his Emancipation Group, also known as Lincoln Freeing the Slaves (Lincoln Park, Washington D.C., 1876; modeled 1865–67), he specialized in portraiture. His straightforwardly realistic style led to many commissions for public memorials honoring prominent Americans. Among the finest, his equestrian bronze George Washington (Boston Public Garden, 1869; original model 1858; full-scale model completed 1864) portrays the general with vigor and dignity. He also produced a number of ideal subjects, mostly marble renditions of classical or sentimental themes, including several of children. His small bronzes helped to secure the popularity of sculpture in middle-class interior decor. Born in Charlestown (now part of Boston), before he was twenty he had set up shop in Boston as a portrait and miniature painter, mostly self-taught. In the 1840s he also executed religious and literary subjects. He began modeling in clay around 1850 and soon found success with portrait busts. In 1854 he left for Italy, spending two years in Florence and Rome before returning to Boston. In 1865 he departed once again for Florence, where he made his home until 1897. Moved by Abraham Lincoln's death, which occurred during his trip back to Italy, he soon began work on a tribute depicting a standing Lincoln extending his arm over a black man kneeling in gratitude for his freedom. Ball produced several replicas in marble and bronze of this Emancipation Group before 1873, when the Freedman's Memorial Society requested a ten-foot bronze version. Financed by former slaves, it was installed in a Washington, D.C., park three years later. Upon his final return to the United States, Ball settled in Montclair, New Jersey, where he returned to painting before his death there. Ball's autobiography, My Three Score Years and Ten, appeared in 1891. The sequel, My Fourscore Years, written in 1899 and 1900, was published only in 1993.

Subjects: Art.

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