The first generation of significant American sculptors emerged in the 1830s. Many worked with little training or exposure to art. Others, encouraged and supported by wealthy patrons, traveled abroad to study European artistic traditions. Born in Boston, Horatio Greenough was raised in a well-to-do family and received a strong classical education. Italy, with its classical sculpture, was a prime destination for young American sculptors. Greenough arrived in Rome in 1825. Three years later he settled in Florence. He spent most of his life there, becoming the first American sculptor to achieve international recognition. In 1850 Greenough returned to Boston, where he died two years later.
Greenough sought to create works of ideal beauty inspired by Greek and Roman sculpture. As other American sculptors in Italy, Greenough modeled his works in clay, cast them in plaster, and hired workmen to carve the final piece in marble. Greenough's major work, commissioned in 1832 by the United States government, was a colossal marble figure of George Washington (National Museum of American History), modeled after a fifth-century BC statue of Zeus.
For sculptors like Greenough, drawing was proof of their training and talent and a means of exploring the three-dimensional world. From the time of the Renaissance, painters and sculptors alike produced countless drawings such as Greenough's Study of a Hand, perfecting their skills of observation and recording.
[This is an excerpt from the interactive companion program to the videodisc American Art from the National Gallery of Art. Produced by the Department of Education Resources, this teaching resource is one of the Gallery's free-loan educational programs.]