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Luly's Hand

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  • Description
    Marble, 3 in. high x 5 in. diameter
    Signed (on the base): H POWERS
    First version executed about 1839; present marble executed 1839

    RECORDED: cf. Donald Martin Reynolds, Hiram Powers and His Ideal Sculpture (Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, New York, 1975; Garland Pub., 1977), pp. 1068–69 // cf. Richard P. Wunder,Hiram Powers: Vermont Sculptor, 1805–1873, vol. 1 (1991), pp. 118–19, 211, 276, 320, 321; vol. 2 (1991), pp. 185–87 no. 218 illus. as “Loulie’s Hand” // Rebecca A. G. Reynolds, “Hiram Powers: Genius in Marble,” American Art Review XIX (June 2007), p. 113 illus. in color

    EXHIBITED: Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, 2007, Hiram Powers: Genius in Marble, p. 51 no. 7 illus.

    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 further 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.

    Powers completed work on the model of Luly’s Hand in plaster in 1839 (now in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.), two years after his arrival in Florence. Made from a cast of the arm and hand of his sleeping baby daughter, Louisa Greenough Powers, affectionately known as Luly, the piece was originally intended as a surprise gift for his wife. (The first marble is now in the collection of Jo Ann and Julian Ganz.) The piece’s design of a child’s open hand on a sunflower bloom, a symbol of devotion, proved to be extremely popular, and soon Powers was producing replicas of Luly’s Hand for eager collectors. Powers ultimately decided, however, that the
    effort put into carving the small but intricate hand was not worth the price he received in return, and so he had his studio assistants stop production and turn their efforts to his more profitable ideal busts. Richard Wunder records a total of twenty-two marble replicas (see Wunder, vol. 2, op. cit., pp. 185–87). Luly’s Hand has thus always been in greater demand than there were replicas to go around. This ultimately led to the mass production of the work in Parian (unglazed bisque) porcelain, making Luly’s Hand one of the most popular and enduring American sculptures of the nineteenth century.

    In all of Powers’s correspondence, he used “Luly” consistently in reference to both his daughter Louise and the sculpture of her hand. Also, Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Marble Faun and part of the American circle in Florence, also used the spelling “Luly” in his French and Italian notebooks when referring to Powers’s daughter. Powers scholar Richard Wunder (loc. cit.) adopted the erroneous spelling “Loulie,” which subsequent writers on Powers have followed.
  • More Information
    Documentation: Signed
    Notes: Signed (on base): H POWERS
    Period: 19th Century
    Materials: Marble
    Creation Date: 1839
    Styles / Movements: Realism
    Dealer Reference #: APG 8418
    Incollect Reference #: 552247
  • Dimensions
    H. 3 in; Diam. 5 in;
    H. 7.62 cm; Diam. 12.7 cm;
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