Home‎ > ‎Sculpture Gallery‎ > ‎Statues‎ > ‎

The Dead Christ

    Eliza Ball Hughes (1807-1892) mentions the statue of The Dead Christ in the fourth installment of the Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes by Mrs. E. Ball Hughes on pp. 16-17:

“Mr. Hughes had secured a fine studio in Bromfield Street.  The Hall in front of the church – Here was made a very find model of the “Dead Christ” afterwards purchased for the Catholic church in South Boston.  It was grand, and received great praise from all who saw it.

The late D. G W. Blagden, D. Vinton of St. Paul’s church . The Revd. Mr. Rogers of the Central church wrote Mr. Hughes a complimentary letter, stating that such works of art, so impressive so [grand?] were aids to religion.  Mr. Hughes’ studio was a large lofty hall just the place to inspire grand ideas!”

Ball Hughes first studio in Boston was in 
Bromfield HallThe following text appears to be from a 4-page brochure entitled The colossal statue of the dead Christ printed by Clapp & Sons Press, 5 Water Street, available from The Boston Athenaeum:

The Colossal Statue of the Dead Christ, by Ball Hughes, is Now Exhibiting at Bromfield Hall, Over the Church, Being the First Model Ever Exhibited, Made of American Clay: Open from 10 Till 6, and in the Evening from 7 Till 10 : Admittance 25 Cents

    The Anglo American - A Journal of Literature, News, Politics, the Fine Arts, Etc. Edited by A. D. Paterson, Volume 1, 1843 New York: E. L. Garvin & Co., June 3, 1843, p. 142:

“Brainard & Co.’s Literary Express — This is the title of a Journal new published in Boston, of which the second number is before us. It is a neat and well-printed sheet with lively and entertaining contents. The present number contains a handsome wood-engraving of “The Dead Christ” from Ball Hughes’ sculpture on that subject, intended for the new Catholic church South Boston.”

Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer, Monday Morning July 31, 1843, Col. 2, records:

The corner stone of a new Catholic church was laid in Boston on Thursday last. The buildng will be Gothic, and in imitation of the church of St. Dunstan, in London, by Sir Christopher Wren. The statue of the Dead Christ, recently completed by Ball Hughes, is to be placed in the church in the rear of the altar.

Good Old Dorchester, by William Dana Orcutt. Cambridge: John Wilson & Son, UP, 1893, pp. 381-382, records:

And now (1843) he comes before us in a new character. We have often admired his works; we have enjoyed many a smile at the credulity of Uncle Toby; we have deeply sympathized with poor Oliver; but what shall we say of 'The Crucifixion,' [another name for statue of the Dead Christ] the last chef  d’oeuvre, which has been completed by Mr. Hughes, and is now on exhibition in Bromfield street?

Truly we may say, in the language of a well-known clergyman, who was present at our first visit to this last production of Mr. Hughes, 'There is a godlike dignity and harmony in the whole figure, which speaks to the heart more than a hundred sermons could do, and we can hardly stand and contemplate without coming away better than we went.'

We know not how to criticise [sic] the figure. Every part is excellent, and, as a whole, it is perfect; we hope it will be visited by persons of piety, — a proper compliment to the artist for executing this beautiful work among us.

The productions of Ball Hughes, the sculptor, were characteristic of the individuality of the artist himself, — strong, faithful, original. His work was distinctly his own, and at once impressed the spectator with the conviction that it was a true portrait of that which it was intended to express.

and on p. 385:

Speaking of the Dead Christ, a critic says: —
We are desirous at present of expressing a feeling beyond the admiration of mere artistic genius or love of art — a feeling called into life by the surpassing excellence of that powerful production of human workmanship — the sublime delineation of exalted imagination which is now exhibited on the latest achievement by Ball Hughes, — the colossal 'Statue of the Dead Christ.'

In an August 1843 letter from portrait painter, George Fuller (1822-1884) in Boston, to his former teacher and sculptor, Henry Kirke Brown (1814-1886), Fuller comments on p. 3 about the 2nd Boston Artists' Association  Exhibition at the (Boston) Athenaeum:

...Ball Hughes is here his last work is The dead Christ – destined for a orthodox church I have not seen it Mr. Carew thinks it his best work [ ? ] and has made me somewhat acquainted with his wife and daughters. I also had an introduction to him. I learn that he is so fond of his ease "pipe and liquor that his spouse – who is somewhat on the masculine build, has to exert – all her powers to keep him at work keeping with him constantly in his studio – or he would be (over all the hill of life victorious)...

    According to the Wikipedia entry for The Boston Artists' Association, the 2nd Boston Artists’ Association exhibition was at Harding's Gallery in 1843, not the (Boston) Athenaeum. Fuller’s letter is dated August 1843, but he speaks of the second exhibition of the Boston Artists’ Association that “opens” on September 1st at the “Athenaeum.” Perhaps he had a sneak preview of the exhibit at the Boston Athenaeum. The Wikipedia entry may be in error regarding 2nd Boston Artists' Association Exhibition being at Harding’s Gallery?

    Fuller had only recently become familiar with the Ball Hughes family, who moved to Boston in 1842. Fuller studied under Brown in Albany, NY for 9 months starting in the winter of 1841 until October 1842, before moving to Boston. The next two winters, he studied painting with the Boston Artists' Association.

    According to the Wikipedia: The Boston Artists' Association (1841-1851) was established in Boston, Massachusetts by Washington Allston, Henry Sargent, and other painters, sculptors, and architects, in order to organize exhibitions, a school, a workspace for members, and to promote art for the art's sake.

    Ball Hughes’ eldest daughter, Georgina (1829-1911), exhibited at the Boston Art [sic] Assn. in 1843, the same year as this letter. She was 14 1/2 at the time.

    The Mr. Carew mentioned above was Joseph Carew (c1820-1870), a Boston sculptor. Joseph Carew and George Fuller were on the list of members of the Association in 1842. It’s not known if Ball Hughes was ever a member.

    Brown was in Italy, studying sculpture, when this letter was written. According to the Wikipedia for Henry Kirke Brown:  His equestrian statues are excellent, notably that of George Washington (1856) in Union Square, New York City, which was the second equestrian statue made in the United States...Brown was one of the first in America to cast his own bronzes.

    He returned from Italy around 1846 and was reportedly more successful in casting bronze in the 1850’s than Ball Hughes was with the Statue of Nathaniel Bowditch in 1847. Brown, like Ball Hughes and Henry Dexter (1806-1876), produced statuary for Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Boston.

    This letter is also partially quoted in George Fuller: His Life and Works, edited by Josiah B. Millet, Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and Co., 1886, p. 19:

...Ball Hughes is here; his last work is The Dead Christ, destined for a Catholic church. I have not seen it. Mr. Carew thinks it his best work...

    An Obituary for Robert Ball Hughes f
rom the Boston Daily Evening Transcript, Friday, March 6, 1868 recorded the following:

...Robert Ball Hughes was an artist of unquestionable genius and a genial and exceedingly social gentleman. The “Dead Christ” in the Roman Catholic Church at South Boston, which burnt a few years since, and the bronze statue of Bowditch at Mount Auburn, have been regarded as among his best works...

Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in South Boston was completely destroyed by fire on September 7, 1848. 


    With only the title of the statue and no image of it, I wondered what I could write about. I have put together all the references here that I have found so far.

    In the 1840
s only woodblock engravings were available and it appears that one of The Dead Christ existed. I need to find Brainard & Co.’s Literary Express, Issue No. 2 for the image of the statue.

    The letter from George Fuller reinforced the rumors about Ball Hughes and alcohol. We didn't know about Mrs. Hughes involvement in keeping him in his studio before. That fits with Ball Hughes' reputation for being unreliable and Mrs. Hughes involvement in the family finances since they arrived in New York from London in 1829.

    Despite being widely known for his famous works including the Monument to Rev. Hobart (1831) and the 
Statue of Alexander Hamilton (1835) in New York, he was well known in Boston for the statue of The Dead Christ and the Statue of Nathaniel Bowditch (1847) in Mt. Auburn Cemetery.
Do you know where I can obtain an image of the woodblock engraving of The Dead Christ?

last update 11/8/2012
For noncommercial use, Copyright David E. Brown 2008-2012