John Talbott


Walk of life:
Biographical details:

This Irish-American sculptor was born in Chicago but spent much of his adult life in the Boston and New England area. He was a gifted but struggling sculptor who was seemingly "discovered" by Oscar Wilde during the famous writer’s trip to America in 1882. According to the Boston Herald, "Wilde saw the promise of rare plastic talent in the youth that Donoghue then was, and the attention thus drawn to him enabled him to pursue his studies abroad." He returned to Boston and was befriended by John Boyle O’Reilly and the Irish community here. In 1888 Donoghue’s exhibition of his work at Horticulture Hall was greeted with enthusiasm. O’Reilly singled out the sculpture, "The Boxer," which Donoghue had modeled after boxing champion John L. Sullivan.

"It is unlike all other statues in the world," O’Reilly said. "It is sure to win international renown as the towering ‘Young David’ of Florence."

Donoghue’s greatest work of art may have been Young Sophocles Leading the Chorus of Victory after the Battle of Salamis (1885), currently in the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum in Boston. According to museum literature, the bronze sculpture was "purchased from the artist, London, date unknown."

Donoghue created at least three busts of O’Reilly: a bronze model (1897) in the Fine Arts Department at the Boston Public Library (BPL); a white marble model in the John J. Burns Library at Boston College, and the model on the poet’s grave at Holyhead Cemetery in Brookline. Donoghue also made a bronze bust of Hugh O’Brien, the first Irish Catholic Mayor of Boston, which Donoghue presented to the library in 1888. It stands in the Bates Room at the BPL.

The artist committed suicide in New Haven after a series of setbacks drew him into depression. The Boston Herald obituary of Donoghue notes, "Going to Paris again, he modeled a colossal statue "The Genius of America" for the World’s Fair in Chicago. It was said to be a most impressive work. But by some mistake it was forwarded too late, no arrangements had been made to receive it, and it was left on the dock at New York, a hugh bill for trans-shipment confronting the artist. It was too big to do anything with and it was probably broken up to get it out of the way. The keen disappointment that resulted from this disastrous outcome of a really unselfish and patriotic endeavor to honor his country and his native city, was perhaps the thing that determined his decline."

A journal article on this man appeared in April 2007

Specific research interests