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Hope, 1862
Alexander Galt (1827-1863)

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21 x 17 x 9 1/2 inches
Status: Placed in a Private Collection

Hope, an ideal head, reveals the neo-classic severity: and the work shows a subdued charm typical of the period. Presenting an allegorical theme, Hope exhibits purity in form as well as material. The shoulders are draped low to avoid the cut-off-arm look. The ornamental anchor around her neck could bear a religious significance, as did many works of the time. Galt's fine manipulation of his material presents in Hope a beautiful piece of sculpture.


Alexander Galt was born in 1827 in Norfolk, Virginia where his father was postmaster. As a young boy in school there he made portrait drawings and cut cameo portraits (statuary in miniature). Very early in his school days, his artistic ability was recognized.


It was difficult for young Americans in early days to find sculpture to study at home other than graveyard memorials and wax works; so at age twenty one, Galt went to Italy. He studied drawing and modeling at the academy in Florence. He stayed in Florence for several years practicing and mastering the art of sculpture, and making his place with the generation of neo-classic sculptors.


There was, at that time, a group of American sculptors in Florence. In an article published in "American Art Review" November-December 1976, H.W. Janson advanced the theory that some of the group of nineteenth century sculptors went to Italy to compete with those sculptors considered to be the best of their time. They were comparing their work with accepted universal standards. Just as nineteenth century sculptors from within the European community presented works which differed from each other, so the works of American sculptors differ in like manner. Within a one hundred year period, American sculpture secured itself as an acceptable entity in the community of Western sculpture.



Since commissions were very few during Galt's first stay in Florence he had plenty of time to study and work to improve his skills. Among the busts that he did in marble during those first years were: Virginia which was sold for $110.00 at the American Art Union sale in 1852; and Bacchante, now in the Corcoran Gallery of Art.


Having spent about six years in Italy, Galt returned to Virginia where his talent was recognized. Commissions for portrait busts and other work kept him quite busy. After two years, Galt went back to Florence, carrying with him plaster portraits to be translated into marble. Among the commissions executed during this stay in Italy was a statue of Thomas Jefferson (now in the rotunda at the University of Virginia) awarded to this Virginia sculptor by the Virginia state legislature.


Galt returned home before the outbreak of the Civil War, and was established in his Richmond studio at the beginning of the war.  Maintaining his allegiance to the South, he served on the staff of John Letcher, Governor of Virginia.


Late in 1862 while making studies for a portrait of General Stonewall Jackson in Jackson's camp, Galt became ill with small-pox, and died in 1863. Thus, a promising career ended after a short but productive fifteen years.


To add a further sad note, much of his last work, especially portraits in plaster, were destroyed by the fire that burned much of Richmond including his studio and a warehouse where he stored many of his works. Cynthia Seibels



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This essay is copyrighted by Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc. and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission.

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