American, 1816 - 1879
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The following biographical information is an excerpt from an essay by Jeffrey Weidman published in William Rimmer: A Yankee Michelangelo
(1986). For an additional biographical resource, see Jeffrey Weidman's Ph.D. dissertation: William Rimmer: Critical Catalogue Raisonné
, Indiana University, 1892. (As a side note, the British artist George Frederic Watts is often referred to as England's Michelangelo).
William Rimmer is one of the most intriguing, singular and outstanding figures in American art. Perhaps the most gifted sculptor in America during the nineteenth century, he was also a painter of compelling and evocative images and a powerful and imaginative draftsman. A man of science as well as of art, he practiced medicine and was a learned anatomist. He was an inspired lecturer, who taught several of the next generation's major artists, and also a poet, author, musician, and inventor. His art and writings demonstrate familiarity with contemporary areas of philosophical thought and experience such as Transcendentalism and Spiritualism. He created the first nude sculpture in America (Seated Man), and probably the first granite carving for other than utilitarian purposes (Head of a Woman, and St Stephen). Through his study of artistic anatomy, Rimmer fashioned a personal grammar of form in which the male nude became a metaphor for themes of heroic struggle. Certain of Rimmer's paintings (e.g. Flight and Pursuit, and Sunset/Contemplation) place him securely within the subjective, idealistic tradition in American art with artists such as Washington Allston, Elihu Vedder, and Albert Pinkham Ryder. On the whole, his art is not easily compartmentalized.
William Rimmer was born in Liverpool, England on February 20th 1816, and died at the age of 63 on August 20th 1879 in South Milford, Massachusetts. He arrived in the United States at the age of two and never thereafter returned to Europe. He was raised in poverty and spent most of his life eking out a living for himself and his family. He made shoes, painted portraits, practiced medicine, and taught anatomy. He was virtually unknown as an artist until he was 45 years old.
Although a self-taught amateur in many respects, Rimmer was familiar with Europe's artistic traditions and more skilled at assimilating them than the majority of his contemporaries, especially in sculpture and drawing. His work also shows a knowledge of more recent artists like William Blake, Washington Allston, Antoine-Louis Barye, and Jean-Léon Gérôme, and an awareness of contemporary scientific and pseudo-scientific areas of investigation, among them photography, physiognomy, phrenology, typology, comparative anatomy, and Darwinian thought. Unlike many autodidacts Rimmer absorbed these many influences without imitating them. Far from being derivative, his works exhibit creative assimilation of their divergent thematic and formal sources.
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