Author Biography

Laura Engel is a Professor in the English Department at Duquesne University where she specializes in eighteenth-century British literature, theater, gender studies, and material culture. She is the author of Fashioning Celebrity: Eighteenth-Century British Actresses and Strategies for Image Making (2011), Austen, Actresses and Accessories: Much Ado About Muffs (2014), Women, Performance and the Material of Memory: The Archival Tourist (2019), and co-editor of Stage Mothers: Women, Work and the Theater 1660-1830 (2015). She recently co-curated the exhibition “Artful Nature: Fashion and the Theater 1770-1830,” at the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University and is at work on a digital book project entitled, The Art of the Actress in the Eighteenth Century. She is the editor of the Performing Celebrity series published by University of Delaware Press.


Sculpture as a medium is inherently connected to legacy making. In producing three- dimensional monuments designed to withstand the test of time, women artists provided evidence of the lasting quality and permanence of their creative acts. This article examines the actress, sculptress and novelist Anne Damer’s sculpture of the famous actress turned Countess Eliza Farren (c. 1788), paying particular attention to the relationship between sculpture as a static art form that captures tactile embodied presence and the ephemerality of performance. Farren’s involvement in Damer’s staging of the private theatricals at Richmond House (Farren directed and Damer starred) suggests that their collaborative relationship engendered aesthetic acts across media – performances that are now lost but remain in traces across a variety of material.

Similarly, in the mid nineteenth century the American artist Harriet Hosmer’s spectacular sculptures of female figures were inspired in part by her intimate relationship with the famous actress Charlotte Cushman. Cushman’s dynamic performances of Lady Macbeth parallel Hosmer’s powerful controversial sculpture of Zenobia as a warrior Queen (1859). Looking ahead to the early twentieth century, I propose that Malvina Hoffman’s uncanny portrait busts of the ballet dancer Anna Pavlova (particularly her “Head of Pavlova” made of wax, 1924), similarly recreate a unique dynamic between the female artist and the intangible performances of her female muse. Drawing connections between Damer, Hosmer, and Hoffman, across time and media, allows us to re-imagine the relationship between artistic forms, materials, and aesthetic practices. Women’s artistic and theatrical legacies, I suggest, are not found only in tangible sources, but also by recuperating networks, connections, and collaborations through interdisciplinary practices. In doing so we create new legacies that chart the extraordinary accomplishments of women of the past.


sculpture, women artists, eighteenth century, actresses