Skip to content

Taft, Lorado

    Full Name: Taft, Lorado

    Other Names:

    • Lorado Zadoc Taft

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1860

    Date Died: 1936

    Place Born: Elmwood, Peoria, IL, USA

    Place Died: Chicago, Cook, IL, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): sculpture (visual works)

    Career(s): educators


    Sculptor and art lecturer at the University of Chicago and Art Institute; wrote a history of sculpture in the United States. Taft was descended from the Massachusetts Tafts, who had arrived in American in 1675. His father, Don Carlos Taft (1827-1907), was professor of geology at the University of Illinois, (then known as Illinois Industrial University). Lorado Taft studied art informally by a faculty friend of the family. Taft graduated from the University in 1879, gained an M.A. the following year, and continued study in art at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris under Augustin A. Dumont, J. M. B. Bonnassieux, and Jules Thomas. He returned to Chicago in 1886 where he set up a studio as a sculptor and began lecturing at the Art Institute of Chicago art school. He married Carrie Bartlett of Boston, however she died in childbirth the following year. Taft’s sculptural work, including commissions for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, gained him fame as an artist. in 1896 he married a cousin of his first wife, Ada Bartlett.

    In 1903, Taft published History of American Sculpture, the country’s first serious history of American plastic arts. This followed a vigorous lecture circuit and courses at the new University of Chicago. Taft also moved his studio to the Midway, the former rides space of the 1893 World’s Fair, across from the University of Chicago. In 1909 he was elected to the National Academy of Design. He was a member of the National Fine Arts Commission 1925-29. He suffered a paralytic stroke and died following a subsequent heart attack. Taft had planned a special museum for “comparative art,” but his endowment was so small that the plan could not be realized. Taft’s sister, Zulime, was married to the novelist Hamlin Garland (1860-1940). Taft referred to himself as an “art missionary.” He strove in his books, both on the history of art and art appreciation, to make the American public “less casual” about their arts. Taft’s sculpture was conservative, beaux-arts tradition. But his writing is valued for the championing of the form of sculpture–if not modernist sculpture of Europe–on American soil.  Taft is one of three pioneers, alongside Samuel Isham and Sadakichi Hartmann, who authored the first significant American art histories.

    Selected Bibliography

    The History of American Sculpture. New York: Macmillan, 1903; The Appreciation of Sculpture. Chicago: American Library Association, 1927; Modern Tendencies in Sculpture. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago/University of Chicago press, 1924; Casts of Great Sculpture. Pasadena, CA: Esto Pub. Co., 1934.


    Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire d l’art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986 p. 539; Weller, Allen Stuart. Lorado in Paris: the Letters of Lorado Taft: 1880-1885. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1985; Williams, Lewis W. “Taft, Lorado Zadoc (1860-1936).” Biography in Dictionary of American Biography, Supplements 1-2: To 1940; Taft, Ada Bartlett. Lorado Taft: Sculptor and Citizen. Chicago: privately printed, 1946, and Williams,Lewis W. Lorado Taft: American Sculptor and Art Missionary. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1958; [obituary:] “Lorado Taft Dies: Leading Sculptor.” New York Times October 31, 1936, p. 19.


    "Taft, Lorado." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

    More Resources

    Search for materials by & about this art historian: