(Maria) Louisa Lander (1826–1923)
Born in Salem, Massachusetts to a wealthy merchant family, Louisa Lander grew up in a mansion in Danvers, Massachusetts, surrounded by sculpture. Lander modeled dolls as a child, and later, family portraits. In 1855, she and her father sailed to Europe. Louisa was accepted as a student by Thomas Crawford, the first American sculptor of the 19th century to establish a studio in Rome. Lander opened her own studio in 1857. Her subjects were women of American literature and legend: Virginia Dare, and Evangeline.
In 1858 fellow Salemite Nathaniel Hawthorne visited Rome and posed frequently for Lander; the two artists formed a close friendship. Hawthorne described Lander as “living in almost perfect independence…keeping within a homely light of right.”
A whispering campaign against Lander soon flourished. Allegations were made that she had posed in immodest dress for a fellow artist. It is possible that these allegations were begun–they were certainly embellished upon–by William Wetmore Story, a less-talented rival. Perhaps her “perfect independence” was judged as too threatening by prudish Victorian men and women alike.
In any event, Lander traveled to Russia in 1859 and then returned to Salem. She had a successful exhibition of her work in Boston, but major sales of her lifesize marble “Virginia Dare” fell through. The artist moved to Washington, DC, and seems to have spent the last 30 years of her life in embittered obscurity.
It is somewhat heartbreaking to read descriptions of the catalog of Lander’s works that have been “lost,” among them life size marble sculptures of women in heroic, or at least untraditional, representations, like “Elizabeth, the Exile of Siberia.”1 Perhaps these will one day be rediscovered, or their attributions corrected. If Edmonia Lewis’s monument to Cleopatra could be rescued from a shopping mall service yard in Illinois, surely more such surprises are in store.
Pictured: Louisa Lander’s bust of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Concord Free Public Library, Concord, Massachusetts
Sources: Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein, American Women Sculptors: A History of Women Working in Three Dimensions
1 “In 1882, Phebe Hanaford wrote of Lander, “She executed ‘To-day’ and ‘Galatea,’ ‘Evangeline’ and ‘Elizabeth, the Exile of Siberia,’ all of them delightful each in its own way, and to these she has added ‘Undine,’ as a sculptured creation of beauty, ‘Ceres Mourning for Proserpine’ and ‘A Sylph.’… Miss Lander has continued to brighten the world of art by her genius. May she long live to mould clay, and chip marble into forms of loveliness!” All of these works are lost. Source: Kathleen Lawrence files.