Henry Kirke Brown (American, 1814–1886)
20 x 12 x 8 in. (50.8 x 30.5 x 20.3 cm)
Purchase, Gifts in memory of James R. Graham, and Morris K. Jesup Fund, 1993 (1993.13)
In 1850, Brown modeled the Filatrice, a subject looking back to his Italian sojourn of 184246, but executed on a scale and in a medium meant for American patrons. The Filatrice (Spinner) stands with a distaff and spindle, winding yarn onto a bobbin dangling from her left hand. Brown no doubt observed this activity in everyday Italian life, but he also was drawn to the subject's classical overtones. In Italy, Brown drew from the antique, and one of his drawings depicts a figure clad similarly to the Filatrice in an identical pose, though in reverse.
Regardless of the Filatrice's links to the past, in 1850 it represented the future of American sculpture. Brown recognized the potential appeal of the small bronze for an American audience and saw it as a way to engage public interest in the arts. He was the first artist to attain consistent success in sand-casting bronzes in the United States, first in his own Brooklyn studio and later with the Ames Manufacturing Company in Chicopee, Massachusetts. Brown's attention to careful craftsmanship is particularly evident in this example of the Filatrice. He has varied the texture of the skin and classical dress, and meticulously wound the wire "yarn" around the bobbin. The located bronzes differ in texture and patination as well as in the position of the distaff and spindle, confirming Brown's penchant for naturalism and individualizing details.