Penelope: Quick Bite

Today on Museum Quick Bites we’re taking a closer look at Penelope (1903) by Franklin Simmons. Carved from marble, Simmons’ sculpture is a lovely portrayal of this ancient Greek shero.

Penelope (1903) by Franklin Simmons, Detroit Institute of Arts, Photo by cjverb (2020)

Let’s zoom in and take a peek at some of the delightful details. Starting at the top, notice Penelope’s double headband and thick, wavy hair. Note the only jewelry she wears is a simple arm cuff, perhaps a symbol of her dwindling fortune. The flowy-ness and intricate folds of her gown show off Simmons’ skill with a hammer and chisel. And the decorative hem and stylish sandals are a nice touch.

Close-Ups of Penelope (1903) by Franklin Simmons, Detroit Institute of Arts, Photo by cjverb (2020)

Penelope’s posture appears relaxed, but her solemn expression and how her fingers rest awkwardly on the arm of the chair, suggest she may not be entirely at peace. She is most likely exhausted from the ruse she’s been forced to play.

In Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, Penelope is desperately hoping for the return of her long-lost husband, Odysseus. Forced to use her wits to fend off boorish suitors, who have invaded her home, Penelope plays the charming hostess by day, and a clever unweaver by night. To learn more of Penelope’s story, click on this link to Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, translated by Ian Johnston.

Left: Franklin Simmons (1910), Photo by Lilian Whiting, The Twentieth Century Magazine, Wikimedia Commons

Right: Civil War Memorial (c1870) by Franklin Simmons, Photo by Kenneth C. Zirkel, Wikimedia Commons

Artist Background:  Franklin Simmons (1839-1913) was born into a working class family in Lisbon, Maine. At age 15, his family moved to the town of Lewiston, Maine, and Franklin took a job at the local cotton mill. Around the same time, Simmons enrolled in a drawing class and also learned how to model clay. He excelled in his classes and within two years, moved to Boston to study sculpture with fellow Mainer, John Adams Jackson (1825-1879).

In 1860, at the age of 19, Simmons returned to Lewiston and opened his first art studio. His initial commissions were to carve portrait busts of local dignitaries. Over the next several years, his skill and reputation grew. By the end of the American Civil War (1861-1865), Simmons rose to fame creating busts and sculptures of Union war heroes.

Left: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Statue (c1900) by Franklin Simmons, Library of Congress

Right: Ulysses S. Grant (1894) by Franklin Simmons, Portland Museum of Art, Photo by Daderot, Wikimedia Commons

In 1864, Simmons married Emily J. Libbey and within four years, the couple permanently settled in Rome. Simmons established a thriving workshop, fulfilling contracts for his sculptures in Europe and the United States. Two of his most notable works include a statute of Ulysses S. Grant, and the Peace Monument both located at the United States Capitol.

Left: Peace Monument (1878) by Franklin Simmons, US Capitol, Photo by yeowatzup, Wikimedia Commons

Right: Ulysses S. Grant Statue at US Capitol (1899) by Franklin Simmons

In addition to portrait busts and statues, Simmons also sculpted religious and mythological figures, like Penelope. In fact, Simmons crafted several versions of the ancient Greek paragon. Note this 1899 version on display at the de Young Museum. One noticeable difference is Penelope’s downcast head compared to the 1903 version where her gaze is more direct.

Left: Penelope (1899) de Young Museum, Photo by Wonderlane, Pixabay

Right: Penelope (1903) by Franklin Simmons, Detroit Institute of Arts, Photo by cjverb (2020)

Simmons visited Maine and the US on several occasions after moving to Rome. In 1913, he died at the age of 74. Simmons bequeathed the bulk of his remaining work to the Portland Museum of Art. If you’d like to view more of his work, click on this Franklin Simmons link, courtesy of the Portland Museum of Art.

That concludes our look at Franklin Simmons’ Penelope. I’ll be back next week with more Museum Quick Bites. In the meantime, be safe, be kind, and take care 🙂

Cover photo: Penelope (1899) by Franklin Simmons, de Young Museum. Photo by Glenn Franco Simmons, courtesy of Pixabay.


American National Biography: Franklin Simmons

Architect of the Capitol: Peace Monument (1878)

Britannica: Penelope

CliffNotes: Penelope

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco: Franklin Simmons

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Franklin Simmons

Portland Museum of Art: Franklin B. Simmons

St. John’s College: Penelope

Sun Journal: Franklin Simmons: A forgotten giant of American sculpture got his start in Lewiston (2019)

The Odyssey: Translated by Ian Johnston (2019)

Wikimedia Commons: Franklin Simmons

Wikimedia Commons: Penelope by Franklin Simmons

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