Sleeping Faun
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More about Sleeping Faun

ehowland's picture


Harriet Hosmer, the master of sculpting neoclassical debauchery.

I’ve fallen asleep drunk in a number of strange places, but if anyone asks, I just tell ‘em I’m a follower of Dionysus. It doesn’t convince anyone, but at least it makes me feel better about myself! Sleeping Faun, a sculpture by the free-wheeling 19th century sculptor Harriet Hosmer, is just such a scene that a frat boy might find himself in; falling asleep after drinking too much and then getting tied up by his supposed bros (in this case, it’s a mischievous satyr). Mythological subjects (however uncouth), were in high demand in the 19th century global art market. Hosmer made an international name for herself initially with works such as Beatrice Cenci, Puck on a Toadstool, and Zenobia.

Hosmer grew up a wild child in the 19th century; most of her family died of tuberculosis and her father raised her to be more independent. In boarding school, Hosmer developed an affinity for sculpture, and, unusually for the time, studied anatomy for her art at St. Louis Medical College. She eventually became known in Rome as one of the “white, marmorean flock," a squad of American women sculptors working in Italy (which also included Vinnie Ream).

Sleeping Faun, completed during Harriet Hosmer’s Rome adventure, was first exhibited in Dublin in 1865 - and subsequently bought on the first day for $5,000! This woman was rolling in cash! And you know this sculpture was a big deal, because eventually it was one of two pieces chosen for exhibition at the Exposition Universelle in Paris.

I’m definitely faun-ing over Hosmer (haha, get it?). Neoclassical sculpture depicting mythological characters was popular in the 19th century, and Harriet Hosmer was definitely the star of the game. You wouldn’t catch her sleeping on the job.



  1. Balfe, Judith Huggins. “Harriet Hosmer, the ‘White, Marmorean Flock,’ and 19th Century Sculpture.” In Visual Images of Women in the Arts and Mass Media, edited by Valerie Malhotra Bentz and Philip E. F. Mayes. New York: E. Mellen Press, 1993.
  2. Museum of Fine Arts Boston. “Sleeping Faun.” Accessed June 25, 2019.
  3. Tufts, Eleanor. American Women Artists, 1930-1930. Washington, D.C.: International Exhibitions Foundation for the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1987.