Visitors to Boston may have noticed a unique Hamilton statute on Commonwealth Avenue, between Arlington Street and Berkeley Street. The statue, erected in 1865 was the first to appear on Commonwealth Avenue. According to the iWalked Boston audio tour guide, the it is also the only stone structure on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. The statue was funded by Thomas Lee and designed by Dr. William Rimmer, who had a fascinating background as a physician and a sculptor.
Public Art Boston offers this description of the statue:
This sculpture by William Rimmer shows Hamilton with cloth draped over his Colonial-era outfit. The heavy folds of drapery bring to mind depictions of Greek and Roman leaders in ancient statuary. Through this anachronistic touch, Rimmer evoked the first democratic-style governments in ancient Greece, thereby emphasizing Hamilton’s formative role in the newly emerging American democracy. Interestingly, Rimmer was a physician before devoting himself to art. He did not use a model to create the statue, but instead employed his unique knowledge of human anatomy to chisel Hamilton’s body from a block of granite. Due to Rimmer’s unusual technique, this sculpture is particularly fragile and difficult to maintain.
Rimmer’s design was extremely controversial during his time, and
Massachusetts: A Guide to Its Places and People states:
“Rimmer had a theory, ahead of his time, of working impressionistically without models. Though contemporary criticism was violently averse, the statue was admired by Hamilton’s own family for its graceful and somewhat aloof pose, characteristic of its subject.”
An 1895 issue of the New England Magazine describing Boston’s statues states:
“A curious work is the granite statue of Alexander Hamilton by Dr. William Rimmer, in Commonwealth Avenue. It stands on a high and massive granite pedestal; and it was given to the city in 1865 by Thomas Lee, who also gave the Esther Monument. There is little or no modeling, except about the head, and the appearance of the figure suggests a snow image which is partially melted.”
Take a look for yourself the next time you’re in Boston!