Imagine my surprise. But ten days before writing this, on a visit to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, I photographed the marble sculpture in figure 1, the well known Sappho by Vinnie Ream. Yesterday, on a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, I quite by accident came across the bronze in figure 2. They are the same!

In 1878 Lavinia Ream (1847-1914), by then one of the great women in nineteenth-century American art, married Richard L. Hoxie (1844-1930), a man who rose ultimately to the rank of Brigadier General in the U.S. army. It is no great surprise, therefore, to learn that they, as well as Hoxie’s second wife, Ruth Norcross (m. 1917; 1870-1959), were buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

The didactic plaque at the SAAM states that the marble statue, entitled Sappho, was sculpted around 1870. This makes good sense, as the poet Sappho was a fitting classical subject to work on during Ream’s sojourn in Rome at that time. Hoxie must have admired it, for he donated it to the Smithsonian in 1915, one year after her death. He lived until 1930, and the style of the grave marker makes one suspect that he, and not Ruth (who lived until 1959), commissioned it.

Ream is most famous for her statue of Abraham Lincoln in the U.S. Capitol (figure 3) . . .

Figure 3. Vinnie Ream, Full length portrait of Abraham Lincoln, 1871. U.S. Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. Photo: The Architect of the Capitol. Wikimedia Commons.

. . . but cemetery creepers will remember her bronze portrait bust of Edwin B. Hay in Washington D.C.’s Rock Creek Cemetery (figure 4).

Figure 4. Vinnie Ream, Portrait bust of Edwin B. Hay, 1906. Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

Never mind the fact that Hay looks like Bela Lugosi (or Kemal Ataturk) and that a stray cocoon lodged between his lips looks like a protuberant snaggletooth. It is certainly different from the neoclassicizing style of her other work shown here, not least in the prominent tool marks she’s left on the clay bust from which the bronze was cast. But let’s leave Hay aside for another post.

The base of the Hoxie monument (figure 5) seems made for the statue; and in a privileged space there is a portrait of Ream (figure 8), which I take to indicate that her death was the reason for the season in this monument.

Figure 5. Ream-Hoxie monument. Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA. Photo: author.

Ream clearly worked comfortably in bronze, and bronze was attractive in that bronze statues could be reproduced much more easily by just casting a new one. Yet she had cut her teeth on stonework, with the Lincoln statue and a bust of him which had preceded it. Since the Sappho is (tentatively) identified as having been sculpted in 1870, the time she was in Rome and working in marble on Lincoln, I take it to antedate the bronze version. I think we might be able to say more: see below.

The two versions are identical to the extent their respective media permit it. There is even the title and the phrase VINNIE REAM FECIT (“Vinnie Ream made it”) on the side of the base of each. Yet her pride in her Latin was matched by a Greek inscription, not of exacting precision, quoting a few lines by Sappho herself (figure 6). These are omitted on the bronze version, as though they hadn’t been noticed or were beyond the skills of the worker to reproduce.

On the statue (figure 6) the Greek is as follows, although I have placed acute accents where Ream placed only dots above letters.

Καθανίσα δέ κείσεαι
Οὐδέτι μναμίσνα σέθεν

Looking the text up, it is given like this in the roughly contemporary Didot text (Paris, 1852) of the fragments:

Κατθανοῖσα δὲ κείσεαι
Οὐδέτι μναμοσύνα σέθεν

“When you have died, you will lie there, and there will no longer be any memory of you . . .”

Anne Carson, a more sensitive translator of Sappho than I, offers this version of these lines in her book If not, Winter:
“Dead you will lie, and never memory of you
will there be . . .”

One would expect that if Ream had done the bronze herself she would have done more to explore what the medium was capable of in distinction to the marble, and included the Greek text (figure 7).

I suspect, therefore, that Hoxie had the statue copied from the marble original into bronze and placed upon the family monument when Vinnie died. The sentiment in Greek on the marble original had the appropriate elegiac connotations. There were certainly artisans capable of copying works at the major foundries, but they might have overlooked or avoided the Greek.

Figure 8. George J. Zolnay, portrait of Vinnie Ream. Ream-Hoxie Monument, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA. Photo: author.

There might even have been assistance from George Julius Zolnay (1863-1949), another prominent figure in American art. He had assisted in founding Ream’s final work, unfinished when she died. We also find his work on the Hoxie monument in the plaque (figure 8) I mentioned above: figure 9 shows his signature.

Figure 9. Zolnay signature on portrait of Vinnie Ream. Ream-Hoxie monument, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA. Photo: author.

The date is unclear to me from my photo here and from others I took. I’m betting it’s 1919 or something close.

The tribute inscription on the plaque is more legible:
Vinnie Ream
Words that would praise thee
Are impotent

and comes from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Insufficiency (the one in her 1850 collection), a poem once again suited to a tomb (though that is not what the poem envisions):

There is no one beside thee, and no one above thee;
Thou standest alone, as the nightingale sings!
And my words that would praise thee are impotent things,
For none can express thee, though all should approve thee.
I love thee so, dear, that I only can love thee.

Say, what can I do for thee? Weary thee? grieve thee?
Lean on thy shoulder, new burdens to add?
Weep my tears over thee, making thee sad?
Oh, hold me not, love me not! let me retrieve thee.
I love thee so, dear, that I only can leave thee.

The bronze portrait in low relief is attractive and almost certainly from a photograph. I cannot find the exact image from which the bronze was modeled, but it is very like quite a few photos (and paintings) that survive. Figure 10 is a good example.

Figure 10. Matthew Brady and Levin Corbin Handy, Portrait of Vinnie Ream, Sculptress. 1870-1880. Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons.

The intense eyes, which Zolnay did not capture, are also in an image from the early 1860s in figure 11. Zolnay also did not capture the asymmetry of Ream’s face, at least to my eye.

Figure 11. Unknown photographer. Vinnie Ream at work on her bust of Lincoln, c. 1863. Library of Congress. CC-PD-Mark PD-Art (PD-old) Wikimedia Commons.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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  1. Lavinia Ellen Reams father and my 3rd great grandmother were siblings. She truly is a lost icon in American history. I have found over 14000 news articles mentioning her name and several books written about her. There is an biannual award given in her name by the NATIONAL LEAGUE OF AMERICAN PEN WOMEN, INC.
    Her brother was the black sheep and was involved with the Quantrill Raiders and the burning of Lawrence Kansas among other run-ins with the law.
    Your web page on Vinnie Is a nice addition to the many sources of information that keep her memory alive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She’s respectfully treated in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, I found, and I think everyone still respects her Lincoln in the U.S. Capitol—I kept seeing it when the rioters entered and was afraid for it.


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