Thomas Ball (American 1819–1911)
15 3/16 x 12 5/8 x 6 15/16 in. (38.6 x 32 x 17.6 cm)
Based on circumstantial evidence, this small bust has long been thought to be a portrait of Herbert Skinner, a son of a wealthy merchant in Boston. The boy had died in 1854 at the age of eight, which means that, if this bust does depict the Skinner child, it is a posthumous image, most likely based on a death mask. The sculptor, Thomas Ball, who had established his reputation in Boston with his portraits of Daniel Webster (the earliest of which is on view nearby) would have taken the model for this bust with him to Italy, where he went in 1854 to work and study. The following year, he sent two marble busts of children, one of a boy and the other of a girl, from Italy to the Boston Athenæum for exhibition. It seems likely that this is one of those busts; stylistically, the somewhat generalized features and the rather vacant stare of the bust would support the theory that it was made after the subject’s death.
Photograph by Jerry L. Thompson for the Boston Athenæum.
Inscribed on reverse: “T. BALL, SCULPTOR. / FLORENCE / 1855.”
Deposited by Francis Skinner, brother of the sitter?