The Massachusetts Studies Network

Press Release: Edmonia Lewis Died in London

As Joe Biden would say, this is a big f*&#ing deal.


9 January 2011




Contact: Marilyn Richardson

Phone: 617- 923- 4329



Cultural historian MarilynRichardson has solved one of the persistent mysteries of American art history:where and when did the sculptor Edmonia Lewis die? The answer is, London,England, on 17 September 1907. According to British records, Lewis, whose fullname was Mary Edmonia Lewis, had been living in the Hammersmith area of Londonand died in the Hammersmith Borough Infirmary. She left a modest financialestate.


Beginning with publications fromthe late 19th-century, the date of her death has been given as anywherebetween 1895 and 1911 with no supporting primary evidence. Although she was aprolific and successful artist, Edmonia Lewis maintained an aura of mysterythroughout her career with varying stories about her origins as the daughter ofa woman of Ojibway descent and a black father from the West Indies. Lewis beganher career in Boston, Massachusetts, and moved to Rome, Italy, in 1866. Fromthere she made frequent trips back to the United States to exhibit and sell herwork. (Continued)


Richardson has published widely onLewis and has written catalogue essays on her work for Sotheby’s and otherauction houses. Recent sales of her sculpture from the 1860s have fetchedrecord prices of $250,000 and above.


Now that Edmonia Lewis’s death isdocumented, Richardson says, the search is still on for official birth recordsto confirm Lewis’s claim that she was born in upstate New York. Proof of herbirthplace and date have so far eluded determined scholars and researchers.






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Comment by Joanne Riley on January 23, 2011 at 18:02

Congratulations, Marilyn!!  This is so cool.... thanks for sharing the news here.  It must feel fantastic to have cracked that nut - what was the breakthrough source?  (Or is that perhaps a topic for an essay in progress?)  Time to amend the Wikipedia article that states "The exact year of Edmonia Lewis’ death in uncertain. Records state she was still alive in 1909, and in 1911 she was seen in Rome. It is believed she died in Rome. An alternative view holds that she died in Marin County, California and was buried in an unmarked grave in San Francisco."

NOW WE KNOW BETTER!   And this means that the referenced 1909 records and the 1911 sighting were hoaxes/errors, right?  What a lovely historiography puzzle...


March 2017



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