Harriet Hosmer, the 19th century’s premier American female sculptor, created many popular pieces, but everyone’s favorite was “Puck,” shown here at the Addison Gallery of American Art. Carved in flawless white marble by the artisans in Hosmer’s Rome Studio, Puck seems sedate by today’s standards, but he was a naughty Victorian indeed. His fetching wings are a bat’s, he sits on a group of poison toadstools, his chubby right fist grasps a beetle (to pelt an unsuspecting dryad?), and his upraised big toe can be seen as—what?
Puck—or “my son,” as Hosmer called him—was an instant success with the aristocracy, including Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales and the crown princess of Germany, who, upon seeing the work, remarked, “Oh, Miss Hosmer, you have such talent for toes!”