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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

William Couper (1853–1942)

Born in Virginia, he studied first under the sculptor Thomas Ball, whose daughter he later married, and then at the Cooper Institute in New York. After practising sculpture for a time in New York, he decided to move to Europe. In Munich, he studied anatomy and drawing, before settling down in Florence for a period of 20 years, only returning to America in 1897. While living in Florence, he sent works for exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. American observers noted a delicacy in the work of his Florentine period which contrasted with the more exhibitionist style of contemporary compatriots working in Paris. One of Couper’s specialities at this time was poetic low-relief marble sculpture. A typical full-length figure from this period is A Crown for the Victor (marble, 1896, Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey). After his return to the States, Couper produced commemorative statues in historical costume, of Captain John Smith (1907) for Jamestown, Virginia, and of John Witherspoon (1909) for Washington DC, and a figure of John D. Rockefeller, which stands in the Rockefeller Institute in New York. He also sculpted 13 over life-size busts of scientists for the Natural History Museum of New York. He ceased to sculpt in 1913.

Bibliography: M. Fielding, Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers, New York, 1965; G.B. Opitz (ed), Dictionary of American Sculpture, Eighteenth Century to the Present, New York, 1984; L. Taft, The History of American Sculpture, New York, 1903; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, p. 42.

Philip Ward-Jackson, 2003