A prolific sculptor who specialized in portrait busts and idealized figures, Chauncey B. Ives made an important contribution to the tradition of Neo-Classicism in the United States. Born on a farm in Hamden, near New Haven, Connecticut, Ives (whose family was predisposed to tuberculosis) lacked the physical attributes necessary for farm life. At age sixteen, he embarked on an apprenticeship with Rodolphus Northrop, a woodcarver based in New Haven. During this period, Ives may have received instruction from Hezekiah Augur, an accomplished sculptor, also from New Haven, who worked in both wood and marble.
After relocating to Boston in 1837, Ives began modeling in clay and marble, gaining his earliest recognition when his likeness of Sir Walter Scott (inspired by a plaster by Sir Francis Chantrey in the Boston Athenaeum) was purchased by the Apollo Association in New York. In the ensuing years, Ives was active in New Haven and New York, sculpting portraits of prominent men such as the architect and engineer Ithiel Town (about 1840), the art patron Daniel Wadsworth (1841), and the painter Thomas Sully (1843).
In 1844, seeking to improve both his technical skills and his health, Ives went to Florence, having received financial assistance from the collectors Charles Chauncey, William H. Dillingham, and Charles McAllister. While continuing to produce portrait busts, he also turned his attention to figurative subjects inspired by mythological and literary sources, as well as “fancy pieces” featuring children. In 1851, Ives moved permanently to Rome (the locus of the Neo-Classical movement), where he formed part of a coterie of American expatriate artists that included the sculptors Hiram Powers and Harriet Hosmer and the painters William Page and Elihu Vedder. Ives’s Roman studios subsequently became a must-see for his countrymen on the Grand Tour. An artist with a keen business sense, Ives also made frequent trips back to New York to market and exhibit his sculptures, as in 1855, when he succeeded in selling all his work in only two months.