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Ginevra

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  • Description
    Marble, 24 in. high
    Signed and inscribed (on the back): HIRAM POWERS Sculp.
    First version executed about 1837–38; present marble executed 1841

    RECORDED: cf. Wayne Craven, Sculpture in America (1968), p. 115 // cf. William H. Gerdts, American Neo-Classic Sculpture: The Marble Resurrection (1973), pp. 118, 119 fig. 131 illus. // cf. Richard P. Wunder, Hiram Powers: Vermont Sculptor (1974), p. 17 illus. // cf. Donald Martin Reynolds, Hiram Powers and His Ideal Sculpture (Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, New York, 1975; Garland Pub., 1977), p. 1068 // cf. Richard P. Wunder, Hiram Powers: Vermont Sculptor, 1805–1873 (1991) vol. 1.; vol. 2, pp. 153–55, no. 181 illus.

    EX COLL.: sale, Doyle New York, May 24, 2000, lot 13; to [Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York]; to private collection, Texas, 2002 until the present

    Hiram Powers was the dean of American sculptors in Italy. Born in Woodstock, Vermont, the thirteen-year old went west with his farming family to Ohio in 1818-19. His father died of malarial fever only a few months later, and, in 1820, Powers, also suffering from the ill effects of the disease, went to live with his older brother, Benjamin, in Cincinnati, where he was able to continue his education. The boy possessed a startling and unmistakable mechanical genius, which was soon recognized at Luman Watson’s clock and organ factory, where he worked in 1823. Powers was attracted to sculpture and began to study locally with Frederick Eckstein, a German-born sculptor and art teacher, who taught him how to model in clay and cast into plaster. By 1828, Powers was the mechanical supervisor at Dorfueille’s Western Museum, where his moving tableau model of The Inferno attracted national notice. In 1829, the young Cincinnati mechanic/artist, fortified with money from local supporters, traveled east, hoping to go to Italy to study and work. His funds, however, stretched no farther than New York, where he was able to see the work of other artists and sculptors before returning to
    Cincinnati. At home, Powers enjoyed the patronage of Nicholas Longworth, one of the wealthiest men in America, who lived in Cincinnati and loyally supported local artists. In 1834, Longworth financed a trip for Powers to Washington, D.C., where the artist aimed to build a national reputation. He was entirely successful in this goal, modeling a marble bust of President Andrew Jackson that was at the same time naturalistic and ennobling. The Jackson commission established him professionally, and during his two-year stay in the nation’s capital he produced busts of such noteworthies as John Marshall, John Calhoun, Daniel Webster, Martin Van Buren, and John Quincy Adams.

    In 1837, Powers and his family left for Italy. The young American established himself in Florence, where he was welcomed and aided by Horatio Greenough, the first American Neo-Classical sculptor to settle in Italy. Powers remained in Italy for the rest of his life, presiding over a growing American colony of Neo-Classical sculptors who chose to live and work in Florence. He continued to produce portrait busts as well as ideal works, achieving his greatest fame with the Greek Slave, first modeled in 1843. Powers’s work was a mix of Neo-Classicism and naturalism, and as such had a strong appeal to American taste.

    Ginevra was Powers’s first attempt at an ideal bust. The name is derived from Italy, a popular poem published in 1823 by the English poet Samuel Rogers (1763-1855), in which Ginevra, a fifteen-year-old Italian maiden mysteriously disappears on her wedding night. Her body is discovered in a chest fifty years later; the only positive identification being a ring on her hand that bore an inscription of her name. As it turns out, in a flight of fancy Ginevra had hidden herself in the chest, and was permanently
    entombed within it when a hidden spring lock fastened shut.

    Powers began work on the model of the first version of the sculpture in plaster in 1837, shortly after his arrival in Florence, although at that time Powers hadn’t yet settled on a title. It wasn’t until he had finished translating the plaster model into marble that Powers chose the name Ginevra. Powers made the source of inspiration clear in a letter to one of his patrons:

    I have just finished the model of another Ideal bust: it is of Rogers’ “Ginerva” [sic]. I will say nothing about its merits, myself. Mr. [Richard Henry] Wilde thinks the face too Italian, but the girl whom it is supposed to represent was an Italian (letter, Powers to John Smith Preston, August 31, 1839, as quoted in Wunder, I [1991], p. 120).

    In the poem, the narrator describes Ginevra’s appearance as recorded in a portrait:

    She sits, inclining forward as to speak,
    Her lips half open, and her finger up,
    As tho’ she said “Beware!” her vest of gold
    Broidered with flowers, and clasped from head to foot,
    An emerald-stone in every golden clasp;
    And on her brow, fairer than alabaster,
    A coronet of pearls (Samuel Rogers, Italy, a Poem [1823], pp. 81–82).

    Although Powers only loosely based Ginevra on Rogers’s poem, following an essentially Neo-Classical motif, he did incorporate the coronet of pearls as a wonderfully delicate and elegant element of the work, particularly with the filigree carved in low relief along its face.

    The first marble replica of Ginevra, a 30-inch version now in the collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio, was finished in 1841. It was originally intended as a gift to Nicholas Longworth, Powers’s early patron. The face is inspired by a portrait bust Powers had executed previously in Florence of a young Boston woman named Anna Barker. A marble replica of Miss Barker’s bust is in the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C. (see Richard P. Wunder [1974], p. 17 illus.). Wunder has written:

    Miss Barker’s features had given the sculptor inspiration and Ginevra became his excuse to
    idealize them. In this instance the comparison between the real and the ideal makes visually
    clear the differences between the two aims in Powers’ work, and at the same time points up his
    success as an artist. It was not long before his ideal busts transcended the portraits in popularity,
    for they possessed universal rather than individual appeal (ibid.).

    Ginevra, then, is an important work in Powers’s oeuvre, a stunning early example of the type of idealized busts for which he is celebrated. Ginevra was followed soon after by Proserpine (modeled 1843), one of the sculptor’s most famous works, and ultimately by the iconic busts of The Greek Slave (1845-46).

    In 1863, Powers produced a second version of Ginevra, a markedly different interpretation of the subject than the earlier work (see Wunder, vol. 2 [1991], p. 155 no. 183 illus.). Costumed in an elaborate, embroidered gown, and boasting a fanciful, jewel-studded tiara, the second version of Ginevra lacks the restrained beauty and simple elegance of the earlier work.

    Wunder, in his catalogue of works by Powers (1991), lists a total of seven marble replicas of the present, earlier version (vol. 2, pp. 154–55). In addition to the one at the Cincinnati Art Museum, another is at the National Museum of American Art, Washington, D. C.; a third is at the Robert R. Livingston home, Clermont, in Germantown, New York; and the remaining four were unlocated at the time of publication. The present example may be one of these lost works.
  • More Information
    Documentation: Signed
    Notes: Signed (on back): HIRAM POWERS / Sculp.
    Period: 19th Century
    Materials: Marble
    Creation Date: 1841
    Styles / Movements: Realism
    Dealer Reference #: APG 21237D
    Incollect Reference #: 552224
  • Dimensions
    H. 24 in;
    H. 60.96 cm;
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