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Morning Glory, 1870
Joel Tanner Hart (1810 – 1877)

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39 3/8 inches high
Signature Details: Inscribed on the base: J.T. Hart 1870
Status: Private Collection, Georgia

A native Kentuckian with an innate aptitude for the arts, Joel Tanner Hart was an uneducated stonemason who, through the early influence of Shoal Vail Clevenger, became one of America’s most well-known sculptors. Following early artistic successes in America, Hart, as had many of his predecessors, left America for Florence, where he found himself well served by Italy’s long tradition in the sculptural arts. Hart remained in Florence until his death, returning only once to America in 1860 to unveil his acclaimed sculpture of Henry Clay in Richmond, Virginia. Ten years after his death, the celebrated Kentucky artist’s remains were re-interred in his home state, in the city of Frankfort.

At the age of twenty-one, Hart departed for Lexington, where he found work as a stonemason. There he also met Clevenger, a Cincinnati sculptor who had come to Lexington to model a bust of statesman Henry Clay. While under Clevenger’s tutelage, Hart was inspired to take on the task of modeling his own portrait busts from life. Hart’s first patron, the great emancipationist General Cassius M. Clay, was so enamored with Hart’s plaster bust of him that he commissioned Hart to translate it into stone. Many commissions followed as Hart’s fame soon spread across the West. By 1845 Hart had executed portrait busts of such renowned men as Andrew Jackson, General James Taylor, noted statesman and future governor John J. Crittenden, and Henry Clay.

It was his bust of Cassius Clay, however, that led to the creation of Hart’s most acclaimed portrait bust. While Hart was on a tour of Eastern cities to exhibit his bust of the general, Hart stopped in Richmond, Virginia, where he was commissioned by the Ladies [Henry] Clay Association to execute a full-length statue of Henry Clay for the generous sum of $5,000. Hart set to his work with unprecedented ardor. Being very much concerned with an unflinching accuracy in his portraits, Hart proceeded to capture every conceivable detail of Clay’s likeness. He made numerous casts, recorded various details, and had a daguerreotypist take photographs of Clay from a whole spectrum of angles. After three years of study and work, Hart at last produced two plaster models of his portrait of Clay. In 1849, with money in hand, Hart left America for Florence, where he planned to explore Italy’s venerated sculptural traditions and produce his portrait of Clay in the finest Italian marble.

It was some time before Hart returned to Richmond. The unfortunate artist was beset by numerous delays, including having the first model lost at sea, and suffering nearly fatal bouts with both cholera and typhoid fever. Yet Hart remained busy in this time, inventing and patenting a machine he called “ pointing instrument” that allowed him to mechanically [copy] to perfection in marble whatever is produced in the marble (Hart as quoted in J. Winston Coleman, Jr., Three Kentucky Artists [1974], p. 11). This invention--although tremendously unpopular with his fellow artists, including his friend and co-expatriate Hiram Powers--allowed Hart to quickly produce portrait busts and secure a steady income, without which Hart could not have afforded to remain abroad.

Hart finally returned to America with his figural portrait of Henry clay in 1860, 11 years after the original commission and eight years after Clay’s death. The Clay portrait was unveiled in front of the Virginia State Capitol building in Richmond to great applause. Hart was widely celebrated during his eight-month stay in America, and he subsequently received two commissions for duplicates of his famous statue from both Louisville and New Orleans. Hart returned to Florence at the peak of his fame.

Upon his return, Hart began a series of sculptures in which he eschewed the literal, realistic figuration that had marked his previous work in favor of ideal subjects. His masterpiece, Woman Triumphant, was of the form of a woman and cupid. His “life’s dream,” it took Hart over ten years to finish, and had yet to be set in marble at the time of his death in 1877. George Saul, Hart’s studio assistant, completed the piece’s execution in stone. It was ultimately sold in 1884 to the Women of the Blue Grass in Lexington, who had it installed in the Fayette County courthouse. The work was ultimately destroyed in 1897 when the courthouse burned to the ground.

Morning Glory follows in the same style of ideal subjects as Woman Triumphant. In this piece, Hart envisioned the embodiment of innocence and youth as a sweet young girl collecting flowers. Hart has captured his sweet subject in the midst of her collecting, while she pauses to examine the beauty of a single morning glory in her hand. Her pose is casual and contemplative, revealing an innocence characteristic of Hart’s ideal sculptures. In Morning Glory, Hart expressed a universal ideal representation of youth and its boundless optimism.

Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., 1998.

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