Sculpture: Bust of P. T. Barnum by Thomas Ball

From Barnum Museum

Date manufactured/created
Created by
Thomas Ball
Near life-size plaster bust of Phineas Taylor Barnum (P. T. Barnum) sculpted when he was about 77 or 78 years of age by artist Thomas Ball (1819 - 1911).  Ball also created the bronze monument sculpture of P. T. Barnum located in Seaside Park, Bridgeport, Connecticut.  The statue in Seaside Park was created around the same time as this bust, though not installed there for several years.  

This bust may have served as a "study" in preparation for the larger sculpture of Barnum, in which he is seated, holding a memo book and pen.   It features a frontal view with Barnum looking slightly to his left.  The likeness to Barnum appears very good, and shows his thick, curly hair, a receding hairline, broad nose, and slightly dimpled chin.  He smiles slightly.   He is depicted wearing a suit with wide lapels, a vest, and a dress shirt with a pleated ruffle.  His tie is tied in the flat style of that era, not in a prominent bow the way modern bowties are done.  There are other copies of this plaster bust, including one owned by the National Portrait Gallery that is painted to resemble bronze.

Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum (July 5, 1810 - April 7, 1891) is primarily associated with the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth.  However, Barnum only began to focus on the circus in 1871.  Prior to that he managed the American Museum in New York City from 1842-1868, was an elected official, mayor of Bridgeport, philanthropist, promoter, newspaper editor, investor, author, and lecturer among many things.  In the process of creating celebrities such as "Gen. Tom Thumb," he realized that he too, had become a celebrity, and so began to use his image, and for a time, images of his first mansion, Iranistan, to market his various endeavors.  In the 1880s, a serious illness caused Barnum to reflect more deeply upon his mortality, and make plans for his eventual demise, such as building a new and more modern home for his wife, who was much younger than himself.   He also decided to have lifelike sculptures made, but kept the monumental one in storage, to be erected after his death.  It was installed in Seaside Park in July of 1893, twenty-seven months after his death.

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