Susan Durant (1827-1873) was born in Middlesex. She studied with the French sculptor Baron Henri de Triqueti, continuing to be his assistant and visiting him regularly even after establishing her own studio in London. Known for her vivaciousness, charm and beauty, she also bore him a child. George Grote, the elderly politician, historian and philosopher who had been one of the founders of University College, London, also fell in love with her when she was creating his portrait medallion in the early 1860s (though he gave her up after being issued an ultimatum by his wife of over forty years).
Durant's tombstone, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. Click on thumbnail for larger image.
Durant had a highly successful career, winning the Society of Arts silver medal for a portrait bust in 1847, exhibiting two works at the Great Exhibition and receiving some high-profile commissions. For example, she was the only woman out of the fourteen sculptors asked to sculpt figures from English literature for the Egyptian Hall of the Mansion House (the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London). In fact, her "Faithful Shepherdess" was the first major public work ever commissioned from a female sculptor in England.
After Triqueti introduced her to the royal family, Durant became a favourite, and received regular commissions for them. The most important of all was this monument to King Leopold, much admired when first installed (in 1867) in St George's Chapel, Windsor. It was moved to Christ Church in 1879, after Durant's death from pleurisy in Paris, in 1873.
In the course of discussing Durant's bust of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Annie Fields quotes a lovely verbal portrait of the sculptor by the novelist's daughter:
The bust also, done by Miss Durant in the studio of the Baron de Triqueti, has preserved this sweet living expression of [Stowe's] countenance. Of this work Mrs Stowe's daughter wrote: "I well remember going with my mother for her sittings at the studio. The dim light, the marble dust and chippings covering the floor, the clink, clink of the chisels, and Miss Durant, tall, handsome, and animated before the mound of clay which day by day grew into a resemblance to my mother, and the Baron de Triqueti coming and going with kindly smiling face and friendly words, and my gentle little mother smiling, happy, and unconscious as a child. It all comes back to me like a dream — those far away, pleasant, happy days.... The bust, after it was finished, was taken to London, where I saw it, and thought it very beautiful and an excellent likeness of my mother at forty-six, — her age when it was taken." This bust was finally placed in the New York University, the gift of Dr. Wallace Wood. [Life and Letters of Harriet Beecher Stowe]
Works of Annie Fields. Life and Letters of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Chapter 7. Viewed 13 January 2007.
Garrihy, Andrea. "Durant, Susan." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Hamburger, Joseph. "Grote, George." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Last modified 30 August 2009