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Little Nell

Little Nell sitting in the churchyard
by Robert Ball Hughes, ca 1842
125.3 x 60.2 x 97.8 cm.
from The Work of Ball Hughes in The Dickensian Vol. 29, 1933, p. 229
used with permission of The Dickensian

A new image of Little Nell from the Boston Athenæum can be seen here.

After Charles Dickens's "Little Nell" from The Old Curiosity Shop. The plaster statue portrays Nell Trent, the heroine, as she finds solace reading the Bible in a country chapel. She is sitting on a chair placed on a flat tombstone. At 49.4 inches high, I would consider the statue to be life size for Nell who was 13 years old in the story. 
The Old Curiosity Shop was published serially from 1840 to 1841 and published as a book in 1842.

According to the Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes by Mrs. E. Ball Hughes, p. 16:

“Meanwhile Mr. Hughes found plenty to do . in Boston . he made some fine Medallions for the Rodman and Rotch families, and amused himself making a statue of Oliver Twist.  It was exhibited, and greatly admired and received a gold medal from the great fair held in Boston in 1850. It afterwards was sent to the World’s fair in England, and was immediately bought by the Duke of Devonshire for his gallery at Chatsworth.  The Duke had been a good friend to the young sculptor, before he came to America. Soon after this he produced a beautiful statue of “little Nell” . now in the Athenaeum.”

    Eliza's account would date the statue to "soon after" the Oliver Twist was completed in 1842. David B. Dearinger reported the date as 1835 in Paintings and Sculpture in the Collection of the National Academy of Design, Volume I, 1826-1925, New York, NY: Hudson Hills Press, (National Academy of Design), 2004, p. 288. Jonathan P. Harding reported the date as 1851 in Pre-Twentieth Century American and European Painting and Sculpture, Boston: Northeastern University Press (The Boston Athenæum), 1984, pp. 43 and 157. 

The Work of Ball Hughes in The Dickensian Vol. 29, 1933, p. 229
used with permission of The Dickensian
click on images to view and enlarge

The Work of Ball Hughes in The Dickensian Vol. 29, 1933, p. 230
used with permission of The Dickensian

    The following was written about Little Nell by David B. Dearinger in Cushing and Dearinger, eds., Acquired Tastes: 200 Years of Collecting for the Boston Athenæum (2006), pp. 281-284 and reported by the Boston Athenæum:

Hughes’s Little Nell was the third major literary work by Hughes to come to the Athenaeum. Illustrating a scene from Charles Dickens’s novel The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-1841), it was one of Hughes’s most popular conceptions. It precisely captures a scene from Chapter 53 of the novel when the novel’s heroine, Nell Trent, visits an old church in search of solitude and contemplation. “The child sat down in this old, silent place,” Dickens famously wrote,

among the stark figures on the tombs—they made it more quiet there, than elsewhere, to her fancy—and gazing round with a feeling of awe, tempered with a calm delight, felt that now she was happy, and at rest. She took a Bible from the shelf, and read; then, laying it down thought of the summer days and the bright spring-time that would come—of the rays of sun that would fall in aslant upon the sleeping forms—of the leaves that would flutter at the window, and play in glistening shadows on the pavement—of the songs of birds, and growth of buds and blossoms out of doors—of the sweet air, that would steal in and gently wave the tattered banners overhead. What if the spot awakened thoughts of death! Die who would, it would still remain the same; these sights and sounds would still go on as happily as ever. It would be no pain to sleep amidst them.[13]

Hughes’s Little Nell was first shown at the Athenæum in 1852, probably lent by the artist himself, and it continued to be included in the institution’s annual exhibitions through 1867.[14] It received much mention in the press and was even reproduced as a full-page crystalotype photograph by the Boston photographers Whipple and Black in the Photographic and Fine Arts Journal in 1854.[15]By that time, it was considered part of the Athenæum’s collection where, with its literary affiliations, it found an obviously appropriate home.

[13]Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop (repr. 1841 ed.; New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 399-401. In the illustration of this scene that was published in 1841 and again in the Oxford Press edition cited here, Nell is shown in a position very similar to the one in which Hughes placed her: seated on a chair which is raised on a fallen tombstone, holding the bible and gazing of in a thoughtful manner.
[14]Perkins and Gavin, 83. The sculpture is listed in the exhibition’s catalogue with no owner identified, usually a sign that the work had been submitted by the artist.
[15]See “Personal and Art Intelligence,” Photographic and Fine Arts Journal 7 (May 1854): 160. Despite this level of exposure, no replicas, in plaster or marble, are known to have been made of the sculpture. Perhaps it was too baroque in its style, too melancholy in its mood, or simply to large to be easily accommodated into the typical domestic interior of the period.

Little Nell can be seen on the second floor of the Boston 

Do you know of an uncopyrighted image of Little Nell that I could use here?

last update 3/26/2013
For noncommercial use, Copyright David E. Brown 2008-2013