Horatio Greenough, America's First Sculptor

  Rescue, a statue group by Horatio Greenough, 1853. It was later removed from the U.S. Capital steps.

Rescue, a statue group by Horatio Greenough, 1853. It was later removed from the U.S. Capital steps.

An old house was built on Centre Street in 1797 under classical influence, and was the home of Horatio Greenough. It was called “Lakeville,” and its site has given one local street a name. The Greenough name should immediately bring to mind the Loring-Greenough House at the Monument, the only centuries-old house to survive in Jamaica Plain.

Five successive David Stoddard Greenoughs occupied Lakeville from 1785 until 1924. Horatio, along with 10 brothers and sisters, was born to David II in 1805. Of the children who survived infancy, five were artists, and three are usually seen in biographical reference books. If not in Boston, the family was in the Jamaica Plain mansion, where Horatio spent his teens. [See Editor’s note at end of article]

His father did not hinder his family’s artistic bent but insisted on sending Horatio to Harvard, where he graduated in 1825 and where he met the famed American painter Washington Allston. Since childhood he had loved to shape things. While in college he submitted an obelisk model in a design contest for the Bunker Hill Monument. At his friends’ urging, after graduation he sailed to Rome to experience art first hand.

He became America’s first sculptor. For the rest of his life, he would spend only three years here.

Lodged on Rome’s Pincian Hill, Greenough studied composite and portraiture without slavish copying of ancient statues. Several busts were modeled, but by August 1826, due to driving himself too hard and his schedule, the young artist fell prey to malaria and depression. Though the malaria soon cleared up, the depression persisted, and in January 1827 Greenough set out for Naples for a change of scenery. There he suffered a manic fit, survived it, and decided to go home. On the trip back to Boston the depression lifted.

The rest of 1827 saw him back at the family mansion at Centre and South Streets drawing, modelling, reading and writing. At this time he modelled a bust of Mayor Josiah Quincy of Boston-the first of many that survive. His busts, of which many exist in Boston’s older institutions, are known for their strong likenesses. The new year saw Greenough in Washington, doing busts of President Adams and Chief Justice Marshall. He fished around for other commissions.

On returning to Italy in mid-1828 the Yankee stonecutter (as he called himself) settled in Florence with its better climate and artistic colony. Early on he did his first group statue and his first full-length portrait statue. Through his connections Greenough was able to get Lafayette to sit for him in Paris, whence came the bust of the Revolution’s youngest general in the State House. In 1832 he was commissioned to produce a full-length statue of Washington for the Capitol’s rotunda. This made him greatly sought after in Florence.

Greenough enjoyed child portraiture the most and did many busts of this kind while he waited a year for money for the Washington statue. He chose to portray Washington nude as the ancient Greeks had shown their chief god Zeus at Olympia. It was a strong national symbol in Greece, and Greenough reasoned that Washington in such a pose would be a fine American symbol in a new country where things Greek and Roman were treasured and copied.

In 1836, after Washington had been cast in plaster, Greenough visited America briefly to get a commission for a statuary group called “The Rescue” for the eastern facade of the Capitol. In Boston he visited his dying father and obtained more bust commissions. On board ship to Italy he met Louisa Gore of Boston and, with her, had three children after their marriage in October 1837. Once the Washington was finished (which Greenough considered his crowning work) despite the general horror over “a nude Father of the Country,” he went on to finish his group statue “The Rescue.”

In 1851 Florence became a hot point in the fight for Italian independence. Greenough and his family returned to America, making a home in Newport, Rhode Island. Characteristically, the artist plunged into events and urged statues of Cooper the novelist and Washington for Newport. He wrote essays and delivered lectures on art. His activity overcame his nervous system, and he was taken to McLean Mental Hospital in metropolitan Boston, where, after a few days, he died on December 18, 1852.

All of this brings up the question of “Lakeville” and its being owned by Horatio Greenough, whose name does not appear in the first real estate atlas (1872), though the house does. The “Yankee stonecutter” had been dead 20 years! Either the credit on the picture is wrong, or the solution may be that the stonecutter had a son, christened Henry, who took his father’s name and spent some of his life on ancestral soil unlike his father-but not 1872. His sister Mary died young, while his married sister Charlotte always lived in Switzerland.

[Editor’s note: David Stoddard Greenough II never lived in Lakeville. He only lived in the “homestead” now known as the Loring-Greenough House. Further, Horatio was not the son of David Stoddard Greenough II. He was most likely his nephew. Lakeville was later home to the Charles Beaumonts and was the site of the first meeting of St. John’s Episcopal Congregation; it is distinct from the Greenough homestead.]

Sources: Dictionary of American Biography; N. Wright, Horatio Greenough; H.P. Greenough, A Greenough Genealogy, 1967; Tuesday Club, The Loring-Greenough House Story.

Reprinted with permission from the Jamaica Plain Gazette, February 1993.

Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.


On May 22, 2007, Katherine Greenough contacted the Jamaica Plain HIstorical Society by e-mail and offered the following additions and corrections to this article:

In reference to your article on the sculptor Horatio Greenough (1805-1852), a distant relative, some major corrections are in order, as hinted at by the person editing the article at its end. Horatio was the son of David Greenough (1774-1836), a wealthy real estate developer in downtown Boston— not David Stoddard Greenough —and Elizabeth Bender (1776-1866). The family lived in downtown Boston until 1819, when David was in a financial crisis and Horatio was 14. At that time they did come to Jamaica Plain and were members of the First Congregational Society (then Unitarian). David Stoddard Greenough (1787-1830) and David Greenough were cousins. The family returned to downtown Boston, specifically, No. 2 Colonnade Row, in 1824. Horatio went to Harvard at age 16 in 1821.  He spent most of his life in Italy and married Louisa Ingersoll Gore (?-1891). They had 3 children, but there are no male descendants of the couple.

My sources are a geneaology of the Greenough family prepared by my cousin Hamilton Perkins Greenough in 1972, and “Horatio Greenough, America’s first sculptor”, by Nathalia Wright, 1963. Also, concerning Horatio’s wife, Louisa Ingersoll Gore, I have found out that she was born in 1812, was the daughter of John Gore and Mary Green Babcock, and grand neice of Christopher Gore of Gore Place, Waltham, diplomat and Governor of Mass.  She was appointed  “Vice regent” and was active for many years as a very successful fundraiser for the Mount Vernon Ladies Association.