While his family was busy with operating the Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, Norfolk-born Alexander Galt, Jr. (1827-1863) possessed artistic aspirations. His main ambition was to become a first-rate sculptor—and indeed he completed several sculptures in his brief life of 36 years—yet Galt’s sketchbook, housed in the Special Collections archives, is a testament to his mastery of drawing not only portraits and the human form, but also animals, architecture, and landscapes. In 1860, Alexander took the sketchbook with him on a trip to Florence, Italy to study sculpting, and in it he produced numerous beautifully detailed pencil drawings of men, women and children, many whom he names. A detailed sketch of a sitter’s hair falling above her ear reveals Galt’s careful attention to the most intricate curves and details of his subject.
People were not the only subjects that interested the young artist, as he applied his keen eye for detail to his observation of plant life, resulting in delicately precise studies of leaves, flowers, and a variety of flora and fauna, including a snarling opossum.
Alexander Galt’s sketchbook also contains a reproduction of a drawing he completed of General Stonewall Jackson; this particular sketch is notable as being perhaps the only likeness created of Jackson from life. Sadly, it was while visiting the General at his camp that Alexander became sick with, and later died from, smallpox. Five years after Galt’s passing the University of Virginia unveiled his sculpture of Thomas Jefferson. The commission was one of the young artist’s major accomplishments--with the Virginia General Assembly paying him $10,000 for its completion--and still stands prominently in the Dome Room of UVA’s Rotunda.
Special Collections also houses Galt’s 1862 diary, which documents notes about the Civil War, as well as his interactions with people, including those whom he sketched. Galt’s diary and sketchbook provide a fascinating account of the people, plants, and animals encountered during an aspiring artist’s too-short life.
“Monumental Questions: Local statues are a lesson in history and a source of controversy.” C-Ville Weekly, June 17, 2015.
Rouse, Parke. “Sculptor Left His Mark Despite Short Life.” Daily Press, November 22, 1992.