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Bust of Nathaniel Bowditch

Bust of Nathaniel Bowditch
from the
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Painted plaster, cast from the 1838-39 original.
    Nathaniel Bowditch (1773-1838) was an American mathematician and astronomer who authored The New American Practical Navigator of 1802.
According to the National Portrait Gallery:
"Nathaniel Bowditch's New Practical Navigator, published in 1802, could be easily understood by sailors with limited education and became, along with the Bible, an essential part of every seaman's gear. The self-taught Bowditch was the leading American scientist during the first three decades of the nineteenth century. As a man of business, he played an additional role in the economic growth of the country, directing fortunes made at sea into investments in New England textile mills.
Bowditch's bust rests on the first volume of his translation and annotation of Pierre-Simon de Laplace's Celestial Mechanics, a study of physical astronomy."
    Ball Hughes entered a bronze bust of Bowditch (before the statue of Bowditch was modeled) into The Fourth Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association at Faneuil and Quincy Halls in the City of Boston September, 1844.  Page 24 of the Exhibition states:
"The Bronze Cast of Dr. Bowditch, (No. 1371,) was considered by the Committee to be of great merit, and worthy of the highest commendation."
Page 37 states:
"Henry N. Hooper & Co., Boston.  Bronze cast of the late Dr. Bowditch.  This Bust early engaged the notice of this Committee.  It was considered by them an excellent cast; preserving the likeness, with great truth, and very skillfully modeled and cast.  It is believed, by the Committee, to be the first attempt, on such a scale, in this Country, and deserves especial regard from the Association.  Mr. Ball Hughes, who modeled the original, has fully sustained his high reputation, and deserves distinguished notice.  Gold Medal."
    It's not known where the bronze bust that was exhibited in 1844 is today. According to the Smithsonian SIRIS database, a bronze bust cast by Gruet in 1886 and a plaster bust are at the Boston Athenaeum. This is the same year that Gruet recast the life-size statue of Bowditch in Paris for Mt. Auburn Cemetery. Perhaps both plaster models were sent to Paris together.

See the bust at the National Portrait Gallery

   The bust is part of the American Origins exhibit that is currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery.  See a newer image of the bust at the NPG that a visitor to the exhibit posted on Flickr. The line on the busts forehead appears to be from reflections in the glass display case. It's nice to see Ball Hughes work on display in the U.S. Capitol.
    See the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute Project Summary for 2006 p. 91 for a description of the restoration of the Bust of Nathaniel Bowditch, with before and after photos. 
    See an interactive image on the NPG website that can be expanded.

Where are they today?

    The Smithsonian SIRIS database lists about 12 copies including a bronze at the Boston Athenaeum, cast in 1886, a marble at the Peabody Essex Museum, and plaster busts at many locations including the National Portrait Gallery, the Boston Public Library, the Boston Athenaeum, and the Yale University Art Gallery.
last revision 2/15/2010
For noncommercial use, Copyright David E. Brown 2008-2010
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