Patience Lovell Wright (1725 - 1786 )

Patience Lovell Wright, a sculptor, was born in Bordentown, New Jersey in 1725. Raised with a strict Quaker upbringing, Wright ran away at age twenty to Philadelphia. In 1748, she married Joseph Wright from her home neighborhood. Patience and Joseph raised three children in Bordentown. At age forty-four Wright was a widow with a fourth child soon to be born. In order to support her family and through the guidance of her sister, Rachel Wells, she began sculpting portrait busts. Wright was one of the first sculptors in America and established an international reputation.

Wright initiated her career in sculpting by molding faces out of putty and bread dough, next turning her hobby into a living as the sculptor of portraits in tinted wax. She seems to have had no formal training. Recognized as the first professional American wax modeler, Wright became popular in New York where she was living. In June of 1771, a fire depleted and damaged many of her works of art. Wright moved her family to England in 1772 and opened a prominent waxworks. One newspaper reported on "the ingenious Mrs. Wright, whose Skill in taking Likeness, expressing the Passions, and many curious Devices in Wax Work, has deservedly recommended her to public Notice."(1)

There was another side to Wright: her work as a spy for Benjamin Franklin during the Revolution. In 1781, she left England for Paris, where she modeled a bust of Franklin. Wright was longing to return to America and embark on a profile of George Washington. In 1783, she wrote a letter to Washington, inquiring if she would be granted an opportunity to model a sculpture of his likeness. He courteously replied he would be honored to sit for her. Unfortunately, Wright died in England in 1786, before she was able to have Washington pose for her. (BL)

Admiral Howe (Richard Howe, 1726-1799)

Admiral Howe (Richard Howe, 1726-1799), c.1770, wax sculpture. The Collection of The Newark Museum, Gift of Jay B. Tomlinson, 1965.

During her time in England, Wright modeled many notables of British society including Lord Chatham, Lord Lyttleton, Thomas Penn, and others. Wright’s profile portrait of Admiral Richard Howe is now owned by The Newark Museum. She is also known to have modeled busts of James Johnson, Bishop of Worcester, and Charles Fox. (BL)

(1) William H. Gerdts, Painting and Sculpture in New Jersey (Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand, 1964), pp.9-15, 20, 21, 180, 181.

Other references:

George C. Groce and David H. Wallace, The New York Historical Society’s Dictionary of Artists in America 1564 – 1860 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954), p.705.

American Art in the Newark Museum: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture (Newark, N.J.: The Museum, 1981), p.421.

Wayne Craven, Sculpture in America (New York: Crowell, 1968), pp. 27-30.

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