Anne Whitney


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Sculptor and illustrator. Also a writer. In her mid-thirties before she took up sculpture, she combined realism and neoclassicism in works executed in both marble and bronze. Concerned throughout her life with issues of social justice, she infused many works with feminist or antislavery overtones. Her numerous portraits center on friends and acquaintances from New England's intellectual elite, including abolitionists, suffragists, and educators. Born in Watertown, Massachusetts, and for the most part privately educated, as a young woman she taught school for two years. From the late 1840s her writing earned a place within New England literary culture, and in 1859 she published her only book, Poems. A few years earlier, she had begun to model in clay. Determining to make a career as a sculptor, she studied anatomy and attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1860. After returning to Boston she received further assistance from William Rimmer. Her desire to leave for Europe was checked by the Civil War, but she embarked on several major pieces. Among them, the 1864 Africa (destroyed) depicted the continent as a sleeping woman roused by the end of slavery. In 1867 she embarked on the first of three trips to Europe, where until 1876 she resided much of the time, mostly in Italy. In Rome she stirred controversy with the bronze Roma (Wellesley [Massachusetts] College, 1890; modeled 1869), a symbolic representation of the city as an old beggar woman, denoting the decay the artist observed in social conditions. Travels in Europe reinforced her interest in naturalistic, dynamically modeled form before this French aesthetic was widely accepted among American sculptors. In 1875 she won a competition for a public monument to Massachusetts's abolitionist senator, Charles Sumner. When her gender became known, the commission was withheld. Twenty-seven years later she reworked the piece for casting in bronze, financed by private donations (Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1902). After settling permanently in Boston upon her final return from Europe, in the early 1880s Whitney bought 225 acres of scenic farm and forest land near Shelburne in northern New Hampshire, close to the Maine border and not far from Mount Washington. Passing her summers there, she added conservation to the list of charitable and reformist causes she continued actively to support into her later years.

Subjects: Art.

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