Genius of Mirth

Artist: Thomas Crawford (American, New York 1813?–1857 London)

Date: 1842; carved 1843

Medium: Marble

Dimensions: 47 x 20 x 24 in. (119.4 x 50.8 x 61 cm)

Classification: Sculpture

Credit Line: Bequest of Annette W. W. Hicks-Lord, 1896

Accession Number: 97.13.1


While on a visit to Crawford's Rome studio in 1842, Henry Hicks of New York commissioned a piece of sculpture, leaving the subject entirely to the artist. Crawford's choice of a youthful dancer was almost certain to please his new patron, for images of children were popular in nineteenth-century art. In a letter to Charles Sumner, he described this "statue of Youth" as "a boy of seven or eight years, dancing in great glee, and tinkling a pair of cymbals, the music of which seems to amuse him exceedingly. The sentiment is joyousness throughout. It is evident no thought of the future troubles his young mind: and he may consider himself very fortunate in being made of marble; for thus his youth remains without change." By invoking in his sculpture's title the Latin meaning of genius (a tutelary spirit), Crawford conjures up the elemental spirit of mirth. Such classical overtones applied to subject matter of temporal appeal were common practice among the generation of Neoclassical sculptors that came after Antonio Canova and Bertel Thorvaldsen. Compositionally, Genius of Mirth is reminiscent of Dancing Faun, a famous Hellenistic work in the Tribune of the Uffizi Palace in Florence, which Crawford had almost certainly visited. Crawford and his contemporaries relished the challenge of pushing marble to its limit; the disengaged left leg is a prime example of the virtuosity they delighted in displaying. Hicks must have been satisfied with Crawford's production, for he subsequently purchased from him a second sculpture, Mexican Girl Dying, also in the Museum's collection (97.13.2a-e).