July 28, 1866 – Vinnie Ream receives a commission from the United States government for a statue of Lincoln
Ok so think back on what you were during in the summer when you were eighteen. Let’s see, ok well some of us may take a little while to answer because we have to think back a little farther!! Hmm, I was eighteen in 1969. Oh, yeah I was probably waiting to see if my draft number was high enough that I wouldn’t have to move to Canada. I was also going into my senior year of high school. So I was probably working with my dad picking up produce from around the county and trucking it to the New York market.
Now imagine you are an 18 year-old female in 1866. What I don’t think you would imagine, is that you would be receiving a commission from the United States government for a statue of Abraham Lincoln that was going to stand in the U.S, Capital Rotunda! But that is just what happened to Vinnie Reams and on July 28, 1866 she became the youngest artist and the first women to receive a commission from the United States government!!
About Vinnie Ream and the Lincoln Statue
At seventeen in 1863, Reams became an apprentice to scupltor Clark Mills,, after she was introduced to Mills by James S,. Rollins.A year later in 1864, President Lincoln agreed to model for her. Lincoln modeled in the morning for five months,and she created a bust of his figure. In 1866 she used that bust as her entry into the selection contest for the full-size Lincoln sculpture. On July 28th of 1866, Vinnie was awarded the commission by a vote of Congress. Of course the commission was not awarded without controversy. According to her biography at Wikipedia…..
There was significant debate over her selection as the sculptor, however, because of concern over her inexperience and the slanderous accusations that she was a “lobbyist”, or a public woman of questionable reputation. She was notorious for her beauty and her conversational skills, which likely contributed to these accusations.
She worked in a studio in Room A of the basement of the Capitol to produce a plaster model of the statue. During that time Senator Edmund G. Ross boarded with Ream’s family. The impeachment of Andrew Johnson was also in progress at this time. The impeachment trial ended with Ross casting the decisive vote against the removal of President Johnson from office. Of course, since bad things are always the fault of a woman, Ream was accused of influencing his vote. She was almost dismissed from the Capitol with her unfinished Lincoln statue. It took the intervention of powerful New York sculptors to prevented that from happening!!
Soon the U.S. government approved Ream’s plaster model, Ream traveled to Paris, Munich, Florence, then Rome, to produce the finished marble figure. While she was in Rome she was the subject of more controversial rumors.The rumors claimed that Italian workmen and not Ream were responsible of the sculpture of Lincoln.
Other Sculptures by Vinnie Ream
During her career Vinnie Ream created many more statues. Here is a list of her statues taken from Wikipedia…
- Sappho 1865–1870
- Thaddeus Stevens 1865
- America 1870
- The West 1870?
- Miriam 1870?
- Abraham Lincoln 1871
- Abraham Lincoln ca. 1870–1874
- Admiral David G. Farragut (Ream statue) 1881
- Edwin B. Hay 1902–06
- Samuel Jordan Kirkwood 1906
- Sequoyah 1912–1914
You can see pictures of these statues and read more about her here at Wikipedia. So what were you doing at 18? Whose bust were you creating? I know I wasn’t doing anything as prestigious as Vinnie Ream was doing!!
Featured Image: By Mathew Brady – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID , Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1553426