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Admiral David Farragut | by dbking
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Admiral David Farragut

Admiral David Farragut

 

Admiral David Farragut

Farragut Square, 17th and K Streets NW

Sculptor: Vinnie Ream Hoxie

Date: 1881

Medium: Bronze

 

---no sooner than Farragut died in August 1870 than memorials began to spring up in his honor

 

---Farragut was the nation’s first admiral and much beloved. Having gone to sea when he was 8, by the time of the Civil War he was 49

 

---Winter of 1870-71, Nathaniel P. Banks (MA) introduced legislation in Congress calling for a public memorial to Farragut. His resolution called for a design that “was molded from life”

 

---Prior to his resolution calling for a memorial, Banks had already privately chosen sculptor Horatio Stone of Washington, who knew Farragut and had received his permission to proceed with a statue on which he was already hard at work. Banks chose his words carefully in the resolution believing that the clause “molded from life” would assure Horatio Stone got the commission, but he was wrong!

 

---Vinnie Ream had captured the nation’s imagination in 1866 when she received the first government commission ever granted a female artist at just 19 years old. She had little education but had secured a clerckship at the Post Office. She began to broaden her horizons when she visited the studios of Clark Mills. Under the guidance of Mills, Ream’s talent for molding clay was improved. Within a year, she was sculpting busts of such notables as George Armstrong Custer and along the Way be noticed by a string of influential admirers

 

---1864 Reams friends in Congress arranged for her to model a bust of President Lincoln. Lincoln at first refused, but relented when he learned she was a school girl trying to earn a living with art. The resulting bust, completed in 1870 was lavishly praised, leading to the $10,000 commission for a full length statue of Lincoln for the Capitol Rotunda. A commission of that size going to a young and inexperienced women led to all sorts of gossip about just “how” she got it, many believing it was more due to her “feminine wiles than talent”.

 

---In 1871 Ream began work on a portrait bust of the Admiral, who she had met several times. Speculation abounded that she was hoping to repeat her success and secure a second Commission. When Banks introduced his resolution, Ream mobilized her forces. Instead of The Banks resolution being awarded immediately it was referred to the Joint Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds where it was decided that an open competition was needed for this commission. Stone felt relieved at first when the competition was limited to only 60 days for models to be submitted, a very short time, but the resolution was amended to push the deadline for submissions to 9 moths allowing ample time for other artists to enter. Stone was furious as was Banks. As Ream worked on her model, her friends worked on the decision makers. Farraguts widow, liked Reams portrait bust of the Admiral and became her champion. At Ream’s Request Mrs. Farragut bombarded the committee with letters of endorsement.

 

---Fall of 1872, as the first models began to appear, Reams wrote Mrs. Farragut asking for the names of friends of the admiral who might praise her work in letters to the committee. Mrs. Farragut supplied her with a long list of names including the admirals person secretary and men who had served with on the “Hartford”. Ream wrote to all of them soliciting their support. Within weeks letters began arriving in Washington recommending Ream for the commission.

 

---January 1873, thirteen artists had submitted models, or as in one case a photograph of a model with Ream being the only female to submit one. The models were showcased in the basement of the US Capitol building.

 

---Both Stone and Reams models had their partisans. Some naval officers praised Stone’s work as “true to life” and “unsurpassed by similar works”. Reams repaired model which had been damaged in the move from her studio to the Capitol won praise for the naturalness of Farragut’s watchful stance. One reported commented that in Reams model “the face is alert, yet thoughtful, and

the position erect with one foot resting on a coil of rope, is suggestive of both action and repose”. Ream’s model shows Farragut just days before the capture of New Orleans.

 

---President Ulysses S. Grant called Vinnie Ream’s model “first rate”. Mrs. Farragut personally lobbied the committee members on Ream’s behalf.

 

---General Sherman turned out to be Reams most ardent champion. There had been a lot of speculation as to the intimacy of their relationship although never proven, what is clear is that Sherman, and Albert Pike, as well as a number of other prominent men in Washington were smitten with Vinnie Ream.

 

---Valentines Day afternoon 1873, Sherman went to the Capitol to see the models, there he ran into Ream. Ream invited Sherman to visit her studio, that evening he wrote her saying “I will with the greatest pleasure take the earliest opportunity to call as promised, preferably Sunday, unless that day be regarded as too sacred”. On February 18, Sherman wrote the committee saying “that the plaster Model of Vinnie Ream struck me decidedly as the best likeness, and recalled the memory of the Admirals face and figure more perfectly than any other model there on exhibition”. Sherman advised Ream to create a smaller clay model to set next to the larger one to show that a small likeness cannot express the Admirals likeness as well as a large one can.

 

---weeks, months went on with no decision from the committee. Ream growing anxious urged Sherman to lobby two members of the committee, Sen Justin Morrill (VT) and Sen. Cameron (PA). Sherman wrote back saying that it wouldn’t be right to seek him out, BUT if he saw him he would try to urge him to a definite course of action by making him think it was his own idea. Sherman followed with “men don’t like to be advised, unless they themselves seek it, but sometimes you can put the proposition so that the thought seems original and they catch at it like a greedy fish at bait” Sherman also promised that he would try to enlist his brother, Sen. John Sherman (OH) to speak with Cameron.

 

---February 27, 1873, the committee voted, despite Sherman’s best efforts Ream came up several votes short. There was a 3 way tie between Ream, Stone and McDonald. Sen Morrill, co-chair of the committee stated that while there was merit in all of the models, the committee was unable to agree that any one is entirely worthy, and therefore…reject the whole.

 

---the matter was shelved for nearly a year until Congress convened in 1874. Word leaked out that a second competition might be held. Ream was frantic, writing to Sherman she pleaded with him to act on her behalf during the 2nd competition. Sherman wrote back saying that “the critics will say your (previous) successes are due to your pretty face and childish grace…if in your hard struggle for fame, you can keep a loving woman’s breast you will have double claim to the respect of true and brave men”.

 

---February 1874, Congress took up the issue again, making a proposal to award the commission directly to J. Wilson McDonald who promised to have his statue finished in time for the Philadelphia Centennial expo in 1876—this was rejected. Another proposal was made to leave the decision up to Sec. of the Navy, George Robeson. This plan was unacceptable to Ream since she had no influence on Robeson. Ream urged her friends in Congress to come to her aid. In March

Rep. Godlove Orth (IN) wrote to Ream saying that her “friends in the House” would add the names Of the General of the Army, General Sherman, and Mrs. Farragut to the proposed list of decision makers. Rep. Samuel S. Cox (NY) was skeptical, he asked why would the Sec./Navy be a especial judge of art? Why should the honored wido of Admiral Farragut decide on the resemblance of a stone statue to her husband and call it art? Why should General Sherman, who is accomplished in many ways be an especial just of art? Cox asked that two artists be added

to the judges, but it fell on deaf ears. The attempt to stack the committee in favor of Ream worked…Sec. Robeson would chair the trio, Gen. Sherman and Mrs. Farragut would award the commission. Robeson saw the set up and didn’t allow the committee to vote, instead insisting that they deliberate and investigate further. Ream again reached out to her friends beginning with Sen. John Ingalss (KS). Saying that “she (Reams) was the biggest and most delightful fraud I ever met”, he agreed to help her in dealing with Robeson.

 

---November 1874, the committee of 3 held its first meeting, Robeson insisted they tour the capital to inspect the public statues. Thompsons statue of Winfield Scott that had been installed the previous year at the Soldiers Home caused Robeson to lean in his direction during this second time around. Finally taking a vote in December, Sherman and Mrs. Farragut voted for Ream with Robeson voting for Thompson. Ream having won the majority of votes, had won, but Robeson refused to yield. Robeson worked hard at working to convince Mrs. Farragut to change her vote…two months passed before Robeson gave in and announced Ream the winner. At the time Ream won her commission she lived in a house facing the square where her work would stand.

 

---this put Ream in a special place…she was the first woman to be awarded a government commission and now had become the first woman to receive a second one.

 

---with contract in hand guaranteeing Ream $20,000 she set to work. Laboring for two years on the 10’ high model, she was sometimes criticized for being slow. Gen. Sherman advising her to take her time and consult with Mrs. Farragut “on any and all occasions”. She did just that incorporating the suggestions made by Mrs. Farragut.

 

---fall of 1877, Ream was confident enough in her work that she sent out engraved cards inviting “all interested in observing the progress thus far attained in my statue of Admiral Farragut” to call at her Pennsylvania Ave. studio.

 

---spring of 1878, the plaster model was nearly ready for casting. The “Star” judged the work as an excellent likeness.

 

---most large bronze sculptures had been previously sent to Europe for casting, but Ream insisted that it be done in the United States at the foundry at the Washington Navy Yard which had never before cast so large an object. Love as much as patriotism made for this choice. May 28, 1878 Vinnie Ream married Lieutenant Richard Hoxie of the Corps of Engineers, a man Sherman approved of

and whose career he furthered. Hoxie was assigned to Washington and, if his wife wished to stay by his side, she would have to finish her work in the capital. With the blessing of the new Sec. Navy, Richard W. Thompson, Vinnie Ream Hoxie moved her huge plaster model to the Navy Yard where she worked to complete the finishing touches as the soldiers watched.

 

---many of Washington statues used melted down captured cannons as the source of bronze, so not unlike those, this state is made from the “Hartford’s” propellers which yielded enough bronze not only for the 10’ high statue, but for the four mortars at the corners of the pedestal as well.

 

---the location were the statue was to reside had been renamed for him shortly after his death. The pedestal for the statue was placed in the center of the square and orientated so that the Admiral would be facing the White House two blocks away. Problems with the base pushed The dedication date back from March 4, 1881 (which would have coincided with James A. Garfield’s inauguration) to April 25, 1881, the anniversary of Farragut’s victory at New Orleans.

 

---Ream was concerned that smaller crowds would be on hand with the rescheduled date, Admiral Porter reassured her that the changes were so that “the ceremonies in honor of Admiral Farragut would not be secondary to anything else”. He went on to say that April 25th will always be remembered as Farragut Day.

 

---as dedication day drew closer, excitement mounted, the only problem was that the base which had not arrived until April 20 caused Lieutenant Hoxie to hand pick a group of men to step in, working around the clock to complete the base and erect the statue just hours before the ceremony.

 

---In the pedestals interior, Lieutenant Hoxie slipped a copper box containing an account of Farragut’s long career and other papers as well as a bronze model of the “Hartford’s” propeller.

 

---at 2pm with the government offices closed, the procession formed at the Navy Monument (Peace Monument), moving along Pennsylvania Ave past the White House to Farragut Square. Approximately 4000 invited guests on one side of the square listened to John Philip Sousa conduct the Marine Band. Joining President and Mrs. Garfield in places of honor were, Mrs. Farragut, her son, Loyall, and Vinnie Ream Hoxie.

 

---Vinnie Ream Hoxie wore a black brocaded silk dress, a straw bonnet ornamented with a white ostrich plume and a spray of pale roses for this ceremony

 

---two members of Admiral Farraguts crew on the “Hartford”, Quartermaster C. B. Knowles and Boatswain James Wiley lifted the flag that covered the statue.

 

---it has been said that this statue is as much a testament to political acumen as to artistic ability!

 

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Taken on June 15, 2005