Thomas Ball (American, 1819-1911)
La Petite Pensée
Signed and dated "T. BALL. 1870" on the lower edge of the back.
Marble, height 19 3/4 in. (50.2 cm), with a marble socle plus a painted wood base.
Condition: Minor dust and grime.
Literature: Thayer Tolles, ed., American Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, A Catalogue of Works by Artists Born before 1865, vol. I (New York: 2001), pp. 82-83, no. 32, another example illustrated.
N.B. In the entry from the Metropolitan Museum catalog cited above, the author notes that the expatriate artist Thomas Ball described La Petite Pensée as "a great success." The model for this idealized work is unconfirmed but may have been a young niece or perhaps the child of one of Ball's adult models in Florence. Images of children were popular subjects in the 19th century, and this bust was surely admired for its purity and simplicity as well as the beauty and finesse of its execution. The pansies that adorn the bodice of the child's dress symbolize the Trinity and also, in Victorian flower language, are a play on the word "pensée" or thoughtful reflection.
The Metropolitan catalog entry also provides a list of known examples of this bust. The earliest known marble of La Petite Pensée is dated 1868 (Private Collection). Other examples of this marble exist in public collections such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1869); the Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, Pennsylvania (1875); the Boston Public Library, Boston, Massachusetts (undated); Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington, Indiana (1870); Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute Museum of Art, Utica, New York (1876); and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC (undated).
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