Skip to main content
Select Source:

William Rush

William Rush

William Rush (1756-1833) was the most significant American sculptor to emerge from the folk-art and figurehead carving tradition of the early years of the republic.

William Rush was born in Philadelphia. His father was a ship carpenter, and as a boy William occupied himself by carving ship models. He was apprenticed to learn the trade of carving, probably before the Revolution; his earliest known commissions for figureheads date from about 1790. As time went on, Rush became famous as a carver, and he employed a number of apprentices. He was the only sculptor to become one of the founders, in 1794, of the short-lived Columbianum, the first art organization in America; and he was also one of the first directors of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Probably because of his superior skill at figurehead carving, Rush was able to advance to a position beyond that of purely artisan work, and he received a number of significant commissions in the realm of "pure" sculpture. His first important works were the figures Comedy and Tragedy (1808) for the Chestnut Street Theater in Philadelphia. The following year he was commissioned to create what was probably his best-known sculpture, the Water Nymph and Bittern. In 1824, on the occasion of Lafayette's triumphal tour of the United States, Rush not only carved his portrait but also executed two monumental sculptures, Wisdom and Justice, which were placed atop a Philadelphia triumphal arch erected in Lafayette's honor. His last major works were two reclining figures, Schuylkill River Chained and Schuylkill River Freed (ca. 1828).

Rush executed a number of portraits. His subjects included Benjamin Rush, George Washington, Oliver Hazard Perry, Andrew Jackson, and Winfield Scott. Two of his finest works were portraits of himself and of his daughter, Elizabeth.

Rush was primarily a woodcarver, and the deep under-cutting, broad planes, and general columnar form of many of his statues bear witness to his respect for his medium. He never worked in marble. Some of his portrait busts exist in plaster and some in terra-cotta, mediums in which he was also proficient. Stylistically, he was closer to the decorative rococo tradition of the 18th century than to the prevailing neoclassicism of his own time. Yet his allegories were not unlike those carved by European artists of his day, and his Schuylkill River Chained certainly relates to statues of classical river gods. While some critics have claimed that Rush was the first American sculptor, he really represents the apogee of the artisan tradition of woodcarving, for American sculpture would develop in the future along the lines of neoclassic marble carving.

Further Reading

A biographical study of Rush is Henri Marceau, William Rush, 1756-1833: The First Native American Sculptor (1937). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"William Rush." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Apr. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"William Rush." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/william-rush

"William Rush." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved April 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/william-rush

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Rush, William

William Rush, 1756–1833, American sculptor, one of the earliest in the country, b. Philadelphia. His wood carvings, clay models, and figureheads were famous in their day. Of his other works, carved in wood, the statue of George Washington is in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and a bronze replica of his graceful Spirit of the Schuylkill (1812) is in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. Thomas Eakins painted Rush at work on this figure (1877; Philadelphia Mus. of Art). Rush was a leader in founding the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which owns many of his works including a plaster cast of a vigorous self-portrait. He also did portraits of Joseph Wright, Samuel Morris, Washington, Lafayette, and others. The Philadelphia Museum of Art contains some of his sprightly allegorical figures, among them Comedy and Tragedy.

See catalog by H. Marceau (1937).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Rush, William." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Apr. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Rush, William." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rush-william

"Rush, William." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved April 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rush-william

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.