Hiram   Powers

(Woodstock, Vermont, July 29, 1805 – June 27, 1873, Florence, Italy)

When a boy Powers was taken with his family to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he learned the art of modeling, and acquired some local reputation for his busts and medallions of such men as Calhoun, Webster, Jackson, and Clay. After a short residence in Washington, D. C, he went to Italy in 1837, settling in Florence, where the rest of his life was spent. In 1839, or 1840, he completed his "Eve," and the "Fisher-Boy" a little later. "The Greek Slave" (the work upon which much of his fame now rests) was finished in 1843. Of this figure some six or eight copies came from Powers' studio: the first, sold to Captain Grant for $4,000., was taken to England, and is now in the gallery of the Duke of Cleveland; the second, brought to America in 1847, attracted great attention when exhibited in New York, and is now at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington; the third copy belongs to Earl Dudley; the fourth, purchased by Prince Demidoff for $4,000., was sold at that nobleman's death for $11,000. to A. T. Stewart of New Fork; the fifth copy is in the possession of E. W. Stoughton. Other works of Powers have been extensively repeated. Among his ideal subjects are his:
"Penseroso" (in the Lenox Library, New York; never copied),
"America" (destroyed by fire in Brooklvn),
"Eve Disconsolate" (belonging to E. D. Morgan),
"Christ," and
"Paradise Lost."

His statues of Washington, Webster, Franklin, Jefferson, Calhoun, and others are in different American cities. The original Webster, lost at sea, cost $12,000., the duplicate $7,000. Among the distinguished persons who have sat to Powers for their portrait busts, were John Q. Adams, Calhoun, Jackson, Van Buren, Marshall, Abbott Lawrence, Slidell, Grand Duchess of Tuscany, Nicholas Longworth, Winthrop, Sparks, George Peabody, Vanderbilt, Everett, and Dr. Bellows. The Calhoun statue in Charleston, S. C. was taken to Columbia, and destroyed in that city by fire during the Civil War.

Of an exquisitely carved hand, that of an infant daughter of the sculptor, Hawthorne makes Miriam speak very pleasantly in the "Marble Faun." Although small and simple, it is one of the most artistic and touching of Powers' creations. It has been occasionally reproduced. One fine copy is in the possession of Mr. John Erskine of Boston.

"Hiram Powers fitly represents the mechanical proclivities of the nation. His female statues are simply tolerably well-modeled figures, borrowed in conception from the second-rate antiques, and somewhat arbitrarily named. . . . . 'California,' 'Eve,' 'America,' 'The Greek Slave,' are the same woman, and each might be called something else with equal felicity of baptism. The 'California' is essentially vulgar in pose and commonplace in allegory." Jarves, Art Idea.

"Powers is an eclectic in the study of nature, and has triumphed over academic dogmas and dictation. Thorwaldsen visited his studio, and pronounced his bust of Webster the best work of the kind executed in modern times The genius of Powers is singularly healthful. There is something in the career of this remarkable artist which strikes us as eminently American." -- Tuckerman's Book of the Artists

"Hiram Powers cannot be ranked among the great sculptors of our time. His 'Eve' is undoubtedly his masterpiece among ideal figures, although his 'Greek Slave' has attained larger popularity, simply from being more widely known. The dignity of some of his allegorical statues, such as 'California,' and of some of the portrait statues, as that of Washington, is greatly impaired by the too lavish introduction of accessories or by peculiarities of costume. The statue of Franklin, on the other hand, is simple and thoughtful. Of his busts, particularly those of females, nothing can be said but what is commendatory. If he made no real advance after the production of 'Eve' and 'The Greek Slave,' he maintained to the last the reputation acquired by these." -- Art Journal, July, 1873.

"Appeal, fair stone,
From God's pure height of beauty against man's wrong:
Catch up in thy divine face not alone
East's griefs, but West's, and strike and shame the strong,
By thunder of white silence overthrown."
    -- Mrs. Browning's Apostrophe to the Greek Slave.

Artists of the Nineteenth Century and their Works. By Clara Erskine Clement and Laurence Hutton. 1879.

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Proserpine ca.1861 Greek Slave Studio Marble delivered ca.1870 Powers, Wife ca.1870 Powers, Bryant ca.1865

The son of a farmer, Hiram Powers was born in the United States of America on July 29, 1805 at Woodstock, Vermont. In 1818 his father moved to Ohio, about six miles from Cincinnati, where the son attended school for about a year, staying meanwhile with his brother, a lawyer in Cincinnati. After leaving school he found employment superintending a reading-room in connection with the chief hotel of the town, but being, in his own words, forced at last to leave that place as his clothes and shoes were fast leaving him, he became a clerk in a general store. At age 17, Powers became an assistant to Luman Watson, Cincinnati's early wooden clockmaker. Powers was skilled in modelling figures. Watson owned a clock and organ factory, Powers set himself to master the construction of the instruments, displaying an aptitude which in a short time enabled him to become the first mechanic in the factory.

In 1826, he began to frequent the studio of Frederick Eckstein, and at once conceived a strong passion for the art of sculpture. His proficiency in modelling secured him the situation of general assistant and artist of the Western Museum, kept by a Louisiana naturalist of French extraction named Joseph Dorfeuille, where his ingenious representation of the infernal regions to illustrate the more striking scenes in the poem of Dante met with extraordinary success. The idea for this entertainment was conceived by Fanny Trollope. After studying thoroughly the art of modeling and casting, at the end of 1834 he went to Washington, D.C.

In Washington Powers's gifts soon awoke attention. But in 1837, he moved to Italy and settled on the Via Fornace in Florence, where he had access to good supplies of marble and to traditions of stone-cutting and bronze casting. He remained in Florence till his death, though he did travel to Britain during this time. He developed a thriving business in portraiture and "fancy" parlor busts, but he also devoted his time to creating life-size, full-figure ideal subjects, many of which were also isolated as a bust. In 1839, his statue of 'Eve' won the admiration of the leading European neoclassical sculptor, Bertel Thorvaldsen. In 1843, Powers produced his most celebrated statue, 'The Greek Slave', which at once gave him a place among the leading sculptors of his time. It attracted more than 100, 000 viewers when it toured America in 1847; and in 1851, was exhibited in Britain (along with the 'Fisher-Boy', his other very famous statue, mentioned below) at the centre of the Crystal Palace Exhibition, when Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a sonnet on it. This sculpture was used in the abolitionist cause and copies of it appeared in many Union-supporting state houses. Among the best known of his other idealising statues are 'The Fisher-Boy', 'Il Penseroso', 'Eve Disconsolate', 'California', 'America' and 'The Last of the Tribe' (also called 'The Last of Her Tribe').

Powers' most discerning and important private client was Prince Anatole Demidoff, who owned marble full-figure versions of both the 'Greek Slave' and the 'Fisher-Boy' and also commissioned from Powers a portrait bust of his wife (the niece of Napoleon) and the Grand Duchess of Tuscany. The statues and busts Powers carved for Demidoff were exceptional in the quality and purity of the marble employed.

Powers became a teacher at the Florence Accademia. One of his sons was the sculptor Preston Powers.

Hiram Powers died on June 27, 1873, and is buried, as were three of his children, at the Cimitero Protestante di Porta a' Pinti, Florence (English Cemetery, Florence).

Direct descendants of Hiram Powers in Europe included the noted Futurist designer 'Thayaht' pseudonym of Ernesto Michahelles and his brother, the noted neo-metaphysical artist RAM pseudonym of Ruggero Alfredo Michahelles who was awarded in Paris in 1937, with the "Prix Paul Guillaume".


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