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Thompson, Launt (1833-1894)


Launt Thompson’s career as a sculptor began when he made the acquaintance of sculptor Erastus Dow Palmer in 1848. One year earlier, Thompson had emigrated from Ireland with his widowed mother and settled in Albany, NY. He spent nine years as Palmer’s assistant; during that time he developed a facility with clay modeling and marble carving.

Thompson relocated to New York City in 1857 during a particularly fertile period for the Pfaff’s regulars; he established a studio on Tenth Street, where several other individuals who were connected to Pfaff's also maintained spaces. At his Tenth Street studio, Thompson began producing busts and statues. Referring to him as a pupil of Palmer, one source explains that “Thompson has executed some very characteristic portrait busts and several statues of great merit” (The First Century 414). Writing about a visit to the studio, Mrs. Thomas Bailey Aldrich remarks: "Mr. Launt Thompson’s studio was one of the largest, and as he was always a great favorite, choice spirits were always to be met there day and night" (Crowding Memories 56). Thompson also ventured over to Pfaff's, and scholar Justin Martin even argues that he was one of the "regulars in the saloon's early days" (62). William Winter also places Thompson among the artists who frequented Pfaff's (66).

Thompson and Thomas Bailey Aldrich both shared a friendship with Edwin Booth, another Pfaffian. The men were "the two knights who drew the glove and entered the field; their code to be: inseparable companionship; never two, always one" with Booth. Their friends had decided, based on a request from Mrs. Booth, who was unable to travel with her husband, that these two men would constantly chaperone the actor (Crowding Memories 31). Thompson maintained his friendship with the Booths after President Lincoln was killed; it was Thompson who was charged with escorting Mrs. Booth to a train to Philadelphia after the assassination of Lincoln when her daughter fell ill. The pair had to drive to Jersey City from New York; Thompson could hear a newsboy on the streets proclaim the death of John Wilkes Booth, but attempted to distract Mrs. Booth until he could get a paper and confirm the details. After finding Mrs. Booth a seat on the train, Thompson went off to find a paper, where he confirmed the details. He gave Mrs. Booth the paper and told her the news of the death of her son (Crowding Memories 75-76).

After becoming a full member of the National Academy of Design in 1862, Thompson exhibited his work in Paris and then traveled in Italy before he returned home to marry Maria L. Potter and to complete a bronze statue of Abraham Pierson in 1874 and a bronze of General Winfield Scott which is placed on the grounds of the Washington, DC Old Soldiers’ Home. After another visit to Italy, Thompson returned to New York in 1881; he died thirteen years later in Middletown, NY.