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Harriet Hosmer
Will o' the Wisp
modeled 1858
marble
32 1/2 x 16 3/4 x 17 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum



“It was the hour of the night when there be none stirring save churchyard ghosts…And no light except that of the blinking starres, and the wicked and devilish will-o'-the-wisp, as they gambol among the marshes, and lead good men astray.” This passage fromThe Paris Sketch Book by English novelist William Thackeray inspired Hosmer's interpretation of a fairy, his pointed ears and devil's horns sure signs of his mischievous nature. Will o' the Wisp sits on a skunk cabbage in the company of plants and creatures of the marsh—cattails, turtle, and snail. The torch symbolizes his phosphorescent nature, while his bat wings and the owl perched on his cap clearly identify this elf with nocturnal activities.