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It was during this time, flushed with success, that Thompson married Maria Louisa Potter. She was the daughter of Alonzo Potter, Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania, in St. George’s Church, a beautiful church in Troy, New York, which still has an active parish today. Maria was the youngest of nine children of Alonzo Potter and Sarah Maria Nott. Her mother died giving birth to her and she was not raised with her father and siblings but with her strict, religious godmother, Mary Garretson. Her life improved when Eliphalet Nott, her maternal grandfather took over her care. It is not clear how the couple met. Her grandfather lived in Schenectady, New York, not far from where Thompson lived in his youth, so they may have met as young adults, their difference in age being six years. Thompson, while working on a commission of a portrait bust of Union College professor and Civil War officer Isaac W. Jackson in Schenectady, visited Maria as often as possible at her grandparents’ home, her grandfather was serving at the time as president of Union College. The couple married, and in 1871, shortly after the birth of their first child, Lancelot Clarkson, they moved to Florence, Italy, where Thompson could find better access to stone and bronze and also a supply of inexpensive labor for his work. He flourished in Italy doing many commissioned portraits. But if Thompson did well, it was Maria who truly came into her own. Italy became her adopted country where she would stay for the rest of her life. She became fluent in Italian. She became a gracious hostess to visiting family members, and Americans who passed through Florence. This period is described in a history of the Potter family written by her half-brother, Frank Hunter Potter in 1923: “Her apartment in Florence [109 via de Serragli, next door to what was the studio of the by then belated Hiram Powers] was a Mecca for the whole Potter tribe. To say that we were welcome when we went to Florence is to understate it. I had the good fortune to spend many months practically in her household, and I never was happier.” He went on to say, “Her house became a resort of what was most distinguished and dignified in Florentine society. Her weekly receptions were delightful affairs.” While in Florence, the Thompsons had two more children, both daughters, Marriette Benedict and Florence Howard. The sculptor kept busy with commissions from home and also turning out portraits of visiting Americans, such as Eliza Cross Pinchot, mother of his former roommate. He also kept up correspondence with his friends back home, especially the now very successful and famous actor Edwin Booth, who wrote regularly, keeping Thompson appraised of the cultural life in America. It was during this time that Thompson finished his only nude sculpture, entitled “Unconsciousness” (1881) which he worked on for many years, and was one of his few works that was not commissioned, but done for his own satisfaction. It was based on a classic story of an American settler child kidnapped by Indians who was later found by her family but decided to stay with her adoptive tribe and marry its chief. After six years in Florence, Thompson returned to New York City in 1881 by himself. There seems to be no record of why he left his family in Italy, but the demand for art and sculpture was skyrocketing among nouveau riche Americans and Thompson may 82 IRISH AMERICA OCTOBER / NOVEMBER 2014

ABOVE: Unconsciousness also knows as The Chief’s Bride (1881) Albany Institute of History and Art. LEFT: Bronze plaque depicting bust length portrait of Antoinette Eno Pinchot, signed Launt Thompson 1883.

have felt the need to be physically there to effectively compete. He probably planned to stay for a while, as long as necessary to re-establish himself and his reputation, and then return to his family in Florence. In addition, Maria loved her life in Florence and it was the only home their children had ever known. Monuments dedicated to the memory of the Civil War were very popular in the 1880s, and Thompson was responsible for several: “The Eagle On The Globe” for the United States Regulars Monument in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and a statue of Admiral Samuel Francis Dupont, commissioned by Congress and first placed in Washington’s Dupont Circle but later moved to Rockford Park in Wilmington, Delaware. The most important one, however, was his only equestrian statue, that of General Ambrose Everett Burnside, ceremoniously unveiled in Kennedy Plaza, Providence, Rhode Island, on July 4, 1887. After 1887 an inexplicable decline seems to have occurred in the life of Thompson. It could have been a combination of loneliness and overwork. From what little we know of Thompson’s personality, he seems to have thrived best while in the company of others, but the work of an artist is often a solitary affair. Without his wife and her active social circle, he retreated into himself. His commissions were not declining, which may have been a source of the problem: too much solitary work. At one point during this period he did a self-portrait, probably one of his only ones, in which he Continued on page 84

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