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Zenobia in Chains by Harriet Goodhue Hosmer is a Museum favorite, but most visitors do not know the interesting story behind its arrival in the galleries.

The sculpture was originally owned by St. Louisan Wayman Crow, an early patron of Hosmer’s work who knew her through his daughter. Crow helped bring Hosmer to St. Louis in 1850 to attend anatomy classes at a medical college to improve her craft.

Installation view of Sculpture Hall, 1913

In 1881 Crow lent Zenobia in Chains to what was then the St. Louis School and Museum of Fine Arts [1], which was part of Washington University at the time, for its inaugural exhibition. Crow’s heirs donated Zenobia in Chains to the university after his death in 1885. Although the sculpture was officially part of Washington University’s collection, it was exhibited at the Museum on long-term loan until the early 1940s, when Washington University sold the sculpture.

It’s unclear where Zenobia in Chains spent the next few years. By the early 1950s the sculpture was exhibited at the Cherokee Cave and Museum, an unusual tourist attraction on South Broadway. Visitors could tour the natural cave and view art, including sculptures such as Zenobia, and also curiosities such as bones from extinct animals, old coins, costumed dolls, and the Damascus Palace from the 1904 World’s Fair.

Vintage postcard for the former Cherokee Cave and Museum

Cherokee Cave closed in 1961, and the contents of the museum were sold at auction. A private collector purchased Zenobia in Chains at the sale, and his heirs contacted the Museum in 2008 to see if there was interest in acquiring it. Zenobia then returned to the galleries once more at the Saint Louis Art Museum.

  • [1] The Saint Louis Art Museum began as the St. Louis School and Museum of Fine Arts, an independent entity within Washington University.

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