William Rimmer


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(b Liverpool, 20 Feb. 1816; d South Milford, Mass., 20 Aug. 1879).

English-born American sculptor, painter, teacher, and writer. His family emigrated when he was a small child and eventually settled in Boston, which with New York was his main place of work. Rimmer was an offbeat character and had an eccentric career. He believed he was the rightful heir to the French throne and taught himself medicine, being licensed as a physician in 1855. As an artist too he was self-taught, and although he showed brilliantly precocious talent with his gypsum figure of Despair (c.1830, MFA, Boston), he struggled for recognition, and for years earned his living mainly as a sign and scenery painter and as a cobbler. In his later years, however, he became famous as a teacher, notably for two instructional books, Elements of Design (1864) and Art Anatomy (1877). Rimmer's output as an artist was very small, but he was the most powerful and original American sculptor of his time; his work excels in dramatic force and vividly displays his anatomical mastery (Falling Gladiator, 1861; original plaster, Smithsonian American Art Mus., Washington; bronze, MFA, Boston). As a painter, his best-known work is the nightmarish Flight and Pursuit (1872, MFA, Boston), which, like his sculptures, shows the freshness and unconventionality of his approach and the richness of his imagination.

Subjects: Art.

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