The Curious History of Robert Ball Hughes’s Monument to Nathaniel Bowditch
The sculptor Robert Ball Hughes (1806-1868) was born and trained in England and, in the early 1830s, immigrated to America and settled in New York. But by the end of the decade, he had moved to Boston. The main impetus for that relocation was to fulfill a commission that he received from Mount Auburn Cemetery for a monument to the pioneering mathematician, astronomer, navigator—and recently deceased—Nathaniel Bowditch (1773-1838). The resulting sculpture was the first large-scale bronze sculpture cast in the United States. Its creation was a milestone in the history of American Art.
This lecture, by curator and art historian David Dearinger, will detail the rather convoluted but fascinating history of this important moment in the history of American culture. It will also celebrate the long-delayed and much-needed restoration of the full-scale original plaster model of Hughes’s Bowditch, which has long been a major feature of the Athenæum’s art collection. Following its use in the creation of the bronze for Mount Auburn, Hughes gave the plaster model to his friend Edward Brinley, who had made substantial contributions to the commission, so substantial, in fact, that Brinley was forced to give the plaster to William Thaddeus Harris in payment for debts. In 1851, Dr. Harris deposited the plaster at the Athenæum where, it has remained on view since. On 6 October 2010, it left the Athenæum’s building at 10½ Beacon Street for the first time in almost 160 years, headed for Watertown, Massachusetts, where it has undergone extensive conservation treatment by Daedalus, Inc., one of the leading sculpture conservation firms in the country. Join us in reliving the history, including the recent travels, of this important American monument.
David B. Dearinger is the Susan Morse Hilles Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Boston Athenæum.
To Reserve: The fee for this event is $10 for members and $15 for non-members. Reservations are required but cannot be accepted until Wednesday, November 2 at 9:00 a.m. To register, please log onto your My Athenæum profile to make a secure online payment at https://bbd.bostonathenaeum.org or call the Athenæum’s reservation line, (617) 720-7600. Please note: We regret that we are unable to refund reservation fees.