Anne Seymour Damer: the forgotten ‘female genius’

Horace Walpole described the sculptor Anne Seymour Damer as “a female genius”, yet her work is barely known now, almost 200 years after her death.

But  ion her day she was famous, a socialite whose wealth allowed her to live an unusually independent life for the time, and to indulge her intellectual pursuits.

Pictured here (main image) is her portrait bust of her mother, Caroline Campbell, Lady Ailesbury, probably made in the late 178Os, the centrepiece of a series celebrating Damer at Walpole’s house, Strawberry Hill at Twickenham, South West London.

Damer (1748-1828) was the daughter of a field-marshal, the grand-daughter of the Duke of Argyll, and Walpole’s god-daughter, and she inherited Strawberry Hill when Walpole died in 1797. As well as a gifted sculptor she was a traveller, actor and writer who, after the death of her husband of seven years when she was 25, was financially independent and able to immerse herself in her artistic studies. In 1801 she published a successful novel, Belmour. A fluent French speaker, in 1815 she visited Napoleon on the island of Elba, when he gave her a snuffbox. When she died aged 79 she was buried with her sculpting tools.

Although she had no formal training she was an honorary exhibitor at the Royal Academy between 1784 and 1818, rare for a female artist, showing over 30 works, and made several public monuments including an over life-size statue of King George III for Edinburgh Register Office, where it still stands.

The bust of her mother is on loan, now owned by a private collector, and another marble bust, a Niobid (a child from Greek mythology), which was until recently thought to be lost, is also on show alongside a rare portrait drawing of Damer of 1793 as a sculptress by John Downman (above), also on loan from a private collection.

In Focus: Celebrating sculptress Anne Seymour Damer is at Strawberry Hill from October 17 to January 3.

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