'Bust of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow' 1872, Edmonia Lewis
Marble, h 68.5cm
This neo-classical bust portrays one of America’s best-known cultural figures. Longfellow’s poetry significantly shaped popular Euro-American views of Native American culture, especially the epic ‘Song of Hiawatha’ (1855). His earlier poem, ‘The Slave in the Dismal Swamp’ was the source for Richard Ansdell’s painting ‘The Hunted Slaves’, also in the Walker Art Gallery’s collection.
Longfellow’s description of the lives of Native American people was an inspiration for Edmonia Lewis. She was the daughter of a Native American (Chippewa) mother and African American father. Earlier sculptures by her showed scenes from Longfellow’s poetry and his portrait can be seen as the culmination of her admiration for him.
Lewis received her artistic training in Boston, within abolitionist (anti-slavery) circles. This work, however, was sculpted in Rome, where she lived after 1865 as part of an international art colony. She is recorded as executing all her own carvings, to refute claims that she was not a true sculptor and left all the manual work to studio assistants. Works by Lewis are very rare today. There is another version of this bust, also made by Lewis, in the collection of Harvard University in America.
Read more about this artwork in our online 'Catalogue of Foreign Art Aquisitions, 1984 - 2006'
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to National Museums Liverpool, 2003. No. 2004.