Women at work: Harriet Hosmer

Harriet Goodhue Hosmer was one of the leading female sculptors of the 1800s, possibly the only woman of her time to gain complete financial independence through her art. Like Rosa Bonheur, another highly successful and unorthodox woman artist, Hosmer was encouraged by her father to pursue art and physical activity—she was a sickly child—and traveled west by herself into the wilderness of the 1830s. She wore pants and a men’s shirt to paint, and got around the prohibition against women in art classes by studying anatomy with her father.

She accompanied her father on a trip to Rome, where she fell in with an artist’s colony that included the novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne and the groundbreaking women writers George Sand and George Eliot. There, she finally studied live models and eventually opened a studio of artists, comprised of all men.

Mia acquired Hosmer’s bust of Medusa in 2003, a Neoclassical interpretation that challenges the norms of how the Greek monster was typically portrayed, representing her in a beautiful human form.

—written with Eleanor Hohulin, Learning Innovation intern at Mia

“Women at Work” celebrates Women’s History Month by highlighting female artists in Mia’s collection.

Images: (left) Harriet Hosmer; (right) Hosmer’s Medusa, from around 1854, in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art