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Hart, Joel T.

Posted by MarthaCrossSargent 
Hart, Joel T.
March 16, 2007 02:15PM
Historical Sketches of Kentucky by Lewis Collins, Maysville, KY. and J. A.
& U. P. James, Cincinnati, 1847. Volume 1. Reprinted 1968. Clark County.
Artists of Kentucky, pages 625-626.

For half a century past, Henry Clay has been regarded in America, if
not throughout the entire political world, as the greatest of American
statesmen. With like unanimity did the entire art world, in 1874, concede
that JOEL T. HART was the greatest of sculptors, living or dead. If such
detrmination brings its own reward, then had he twice accomplished the
purpose of his life.
Mr. Hart was born in Kentucky, in 1810, in Clark county. His school
life was but three months long; but his desire to learn was not easily
limited, and of evenings he pored over books by the light of a wood fire.
He earned his subsistence by rough stone-work, particularly in building
chimneys and a few fences. In 1830, or by one account as late as 1835, he
removed to Lexington, and in a marble-yard made his first essay at
engraving letters on a tombstone. This was one advance towards imparting
shape and expression to marble. Little by little, as if working out an
unknown problem, Hart seemed to gain upon that undeveloped idea that was
moving him onward. Just then he met with Shobal Vail Clevenger, of
Cincinnati, a stonecutter like himself, whose first essay at sculpture was
in carving an angel upon a tombstone. Although two years younger than
Hart, he had seen more of art, and was fast developing the quiet genius
that even before his early death at sea in 1843, when only 32, gave him
name and fame and promise of fortune. He let a flood of light in upon the
hopeful mind of young Hart, who thus saw the world with new eyes, as it
had not appeared to him before. He was no longer a mere stone-mason, but
had bounded into the highest sphere of the mason's art; he was a sculptor.
He studied anatomy at the old Medical College in Lexington, as
indispensable to statuary exactness.
His first effort in the line of his new profession was a bust of a
young man of his own age, then fast rising into prominence, Cassius M.
Clay. This was true to life, and followed by busts of Andrew Jackson,
John J. Crittenden, and Henry Clay, which gave him popular appreciation at
once. The "Ladies' Clay Association," of Richmond, Va. in 1846,
commissioned him to execute a statue of Henry Clay. Upon the model of
this he spent three years, studying from life; he knew it would bring him
fame, and he admired the noble man. He went to Florence, Italy, in the
fall of 1849, to transfer his work to marble; for a year, waited for his
model, only to learn that it had been shipwrecked in the Bay of Biscay. A
duplicate model at home was sent for. Other delays occurred. Years
rolled on, and the great work - great in execution and in character - had
its last touches. It was shipped on Aug. 29, 1859, and set up in the
capitol grounds at Richmond. The city of New Orleans ordered a colossal
bronze statue of Mr. Clay; and the beautiful marble statue of him which
adorns the inner-rotunda of the court-house at Louisville was inaugurated
May 30, 1867.
During these years, Mr. Hart was not idle. The teeming imagery of
his brain brought life and beauty from the chisel and cold marble. The
marble ceased to be cold, and glowed with warmth and feeling and
intelligence. He has executed many portrait-busts - among them those of
Gen. Zachary Taylor, Col. Gregory, Robert Wickliffe, and duplicates of his
previous busts - some of them remarkable for a look of flesh, truthful in
expression, and seemingly almost inssinct [sic] with life.
But it is his ideal pieces which are most appreciated in the art
world, and excite the most thrilling emotions of the beautiful. His
"Angelina" and "Il Penseroso" cause bursts of enthusiasm at the very
sight. Another, is a figure of a child examining a flower, while she
holds, in her other hand, her apron full of flowers. But poetry and
sentiment and skill have combined in a master-piece that will live and be
known, as only one modern piece is known - the "Greek Slave" of his
celebrated compeer, Hiram Powers who had no petty jealousy to restrain him
from saying that "Hart is the best sculptor in the world." In 1866, this
piece ws called "Woman Triumphant," but since has been better known as the
"Triumph of Chastity." It is described, by a Kentuckian who saw in in
1871, as "a group of two figures only - a perfect woman and a charming
cupid. Love, in the shape of a bewitching cupid, has assailed the fair
one - has shot arrow after arrow, all of which are broken, and have fallen
at her feet. His quiver is exhausted, the last shaft has failed of the
mark, and this splendid woman has caught the barbed arrow, and with her
left hand has raised it above her head out of reach of the villanious
little tempter, who struggles hopelessly on tiptoe to regain it.
"The composition tells its own story. Virtue is assailed - reason is
brought to bear, and all attacks are harmless. It is, indeed, woman's
triumph - the triumph of chastity. Believing that his own countrywomen
are unsurpassed for loveliness and power, he has endeavored, and
successfully, to produce the highest, purest, and most captivating type of
the American woman.
"The art correspondent at Florence of the London Athenaeum - a paper
of recognized authority in art matters - said, in 1871, that he considered
it the finest work in existence; and that in 1868 he had begged Mr. Hart
to finish it at once, but he would not; each year it grew more beautiful,
and he now feared to urge its completion against the artist's better
judgment. Other art correspondents of London journals years ago
pronounced it the work of modern times, and other writers all agree as to
its perfection."
An art enthusiast has offered $15,000 for it, when completed in
marble (it is now only in pure clay); but the old Kentucky sculptor
thought, in 1874, he could yet add to to its beauty, although for nineteen
long years he had toned and tempered and modeled it. When chided by an
admiring friend for spending so many years upon one group, he said, with
an exalted faith in his art, "The Almighty does not see fit to make a
perfect woman in less than eighteen years, and can I hope to make a
perfect model in less?"
When he returned from Italy in 1860, for a year, the city of
Lexington received him with becoming respect and honor, and other places
showed him marked consideration. When the legislature of Kentucky, on
Jan. 23, 1860, appropriated $10,000 toward the completion of the Henry
Clay monument at Lexington, it was understood that the statue was to be
the handiwork of Mr. Hart. But part of the appropriation was used to pay
debts, and a stranger executed the statue. The legislature, on Feb. 5,
1874, appropriated $1,700 to purchase, from Mr. Hart's agent, busts of
Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson, for the state-house at Frankfort. It would
redound to the good taste and honor of the State, if she would invite the
now aged sculptor to execute busts or statues of Daniel Boone, Simon
Kenton, George Rogers Clark, and Isaac Shelby, for four niches in the
rotunda of the state-house.

Clay Hart Vail_Clevenger Clay Jackson Crittenden Taylor Gregory Wickliffe
Powers Boone Kenton Clark Shelby
Lexington-Fayette-KY OH VA Italy LA Louisville-Jefferson-KY England

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