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Overview

The Greek Slave, the first publicly exhibited, life-size, American sculpture depicting a fully nude female figure, met with unprecedented popular and critical success. Arguably the most famous American sculpture ever, The Greek Slave not only won American expatriate Hiram Powers international acclaim but also enhanced the overseas reputation of American art and culture. After completing his first Greek Slave in 1844 (Raby Castle, England), Powers produced five full-size versions (also in marble), each slightly different. William Wilson Corcoran purchased this sculpture, the first of those, in 1851. 

The event that established The Greek Slave as one of America's most celebrated works of art was the 1847–1851 tour of two versions of the sculpture, including Mr. Corcoran's, around the eastern United States. Aware that the slave's nudity might provoke disapproval on the part of a conservative American audience, Powers was careful to supplement his exhibition with texts stressing the subject's ‘high moral and intellectual beauty.'"

In fact, the figure's nudity increased its notoriety, but the work's acclaim in the mid-19th-century United States stemmed also from its relationship to contemporary political events. Powers chose a subject inspired by Greece's struggle for independence in the 1820s; many literary, artistic, and critical responses to the sculpture linked it to the ongoing debate over American slavery.

Corcoran displayed the prized sculpture prominently in his Washington mansion, where it attracted enormous publicity and confirmed his reputation as a discerning collector. In Florence, Powers was overwhelmed by the demand for more full-size versions and busts. The sculpture's renown also permeated popular culture, inspiring everything from miniature reproductions and chewing-tobacco tins to poetry and sheet music.

Inscription

H. POWERS. sc. / 1846.

Provenance

Ordered from the artist by William Ward, 11th baron Ward [1817-1885, later 1st earl of Dudley], but released by him prior to the sculpture's completion; purchased 1848 by James Robb, New Orleans; purchased April 1850 by the Western Art Union, Cincinnati; offered by them 20 February 1851 as the first lottery prize; won by I. d'Orsay, New Orleans; purchased 1851 by William Wilson Corcoran [1798-1888], Washington; deeded 1869 by him to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; accessioned 1873 by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington;[1] acquired 2014 by the National Gallery of Art.

Exhibition History
1847
[Tour of the sculpture under the management of Miner K. Kellogg], National Academy of Design, New York; The Odeon, Washington; Carroll Hall, Baltimore; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1847-1848.
1848
Cooke's Gallery, New Orleans, 1848-1849.
1850
Gallery of the Western Art Union, Cincinnati, 1850-1851.
1957
Tastemakers, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, 18 January-24 February 1957.
1966
Past and Present: 250 Years of American Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1966, unpublished checklist.
1993
The Century Club Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 21 July - 13 September 1993, unpublished checklist.
Bibliography
1882
Macleod, William. Catalogue of the Paintings, Statuary, Casts, Bronzes, &c. of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, 1882: 63, Octagon Room, no. 1.
1887
Macleod, William. Catalogue of the Paintings, Statuary, Casts, Bronzes, &c. of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, 1887: 70-71, Octagon Room, no. 1.
1922
Corcoran Gallery of Art. Catalogue of the Sculptures in the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, 1922: 61, no. 2044, repro.
1968
Colbert, Charles. "'Each Little Hillock hath a Tongue' - Phrenology and the Art of Hiram Powers." The Art Bulletin 68, no. 2 (June 1986): 285-291, figs. 8 & 9, repro.
1980
Getlein, Frank and Jo Ann Lewis. The Washington D.C. Art Review: The Art Explorer's Guide to Washington. New York, 1980: 14.
1981
Gibbs-Smith, C. H. The Great Exhibition of 1851. London, 1981: 129, fig. 184, repro.
1982
Green, Vivien M. "Hiram Powers's Greek Slave: Emblem of Freedom." The American Art Journal 14, no. 4 (Autumn 1982): 31-39, repro.
1983
Cosentino, Andrew J. and Henry H. Glassie. The Capital Image: Painters in Washington, 1800-1915. Washington, 1983: 125.
1987
Moore, Barbara. "Recalling the Melody: Planning an Installation at the Corcoran." Museum News 65, no. 4 (April 1987): 37-39, repro.
1988
Headley, Janet A. "English Literary and Aesthetic Influences on American Sculptors in Italy, 1825-1875." Ph.D. diss., University of Pittsburgh (1988): 230-231, 238-253, 413, fig. 72, repro.
1989
Dillenberger, John. The Visual Arts and Christianity in America: From the Colonial Period to the Present. New York, 1989: 117, 126-128, 163, plate 76, repro.
1990
Headley, Janet A. "The (Non) Literary Sculpture of Hiram Powers." Nineteenth Century Studies 4 (1990): 23-25, 31, 34, 38, repro.
1990
Kasson, Joy S. "Narratives of the Female Body: The Greek Slave." Marble Queens and Captives: Women in Nineteenth-Century American Sculpture. New Haven, 1990: 46-72, repro.
1991
Dimmick, Lauretta. "Mythic Proportion: Bertel Thorvaldsen's Influence in America." In Thorvaldsen: L'Ambiente l'influsso il mito, edited by Patrick Kragelund and Mogens Nykjaer. Rome, 1991: 180, 184, repro.
1991
Johns, Elizabeth. American Genre Painting: The Politics of Everyday Life. New Haven, 1991: 116-117, repro.
1991
Roberson, Samuel A. and William H. Gerdts. "The Greek Slave." The Museum 17, nos. 1 & 2 (Winter - Spring 1965): 1, 15.
1991
Wilmerding, John. "George Caleb Bingham's Geometries and the Shape of America." American Views: Essays on American Art. Princeton, 1991: 190.
1991
Wunder, Richard P. Hiram Powers: Vermont Sculptor, 1805-1873. Neward, DE, 1991: Vol II:157, 161-162, 232, no. 192, repro.
1992
Wilson, Judith. "Getting Down to Get Over: Romare Bearden's Use of Pornography and the Problem of the Black Female Body in Afro-U.S. Art." In Black Popular Culture, edited by Michele Wallace and Gina Dent. Seattle, 1992: 115, 119-120, repro.
1993
Dearinger, David Bernard. "American Neoclassic Sculptors and Their Private Patrons in Boston." ph.D. diss., The City University of New York (1993): 239, 244-249.
1993
Duncan, Carol. The Aesthetics of Power: Essays in Critical Art History. Cambridge, 1993: 111-112, repro.
1993
Reynolds, Donald Martin. Masters of American Sculpture: The Figurative Tradition from the American Renaissance to the Millenium. New York, 1993: 18, repro.
1993
The Human Factor: Figurative Sculpture Reconsidered. Exh. cat. The Albuquerque Museum, 1993: 2, repro.
1994
Lewis, Jo Ann. "Purchases Put Corcoran 'Back on Track:' Bierstadt Sketches, Powers Bust Complement Gallery's Collection." The Washington Post (March 18, 1994): Style sec., 2, repro.
1995
Hollander, John. The Gazer's Spirit: Poems Speaking to Silent Works of Art. Chicago, 1995: 160-162, 369, repro.
1995
Rose, Anne C. Voices of the Marketplace: American Thought and Culture, 1830-1860. New York, 1995: 105-106, repro.
1998
Wallach, Alan. Exhibiting Contradiction: Essays on the Art Museum in the United States. Amherst, 1998: 28, repro.
2000
Colaguori, Jennifer. Hiram Powers' Greek Slave and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 2000.
2000
Colbert, Charles. "Spiritual Currents and Manifest Destiny in the Art of Hiram Powers." The Art Bulletin 82, no. 3 (Sept. 2000): 529-543, repro.
2000
Junker, Patricia. "Thomas Cole's Prometheus Bound: An Allegory for the 1840s." American Art Journal 31, nos. 1 & 2 (2000): 46-49, repro.
2000
Voorsanger, Catherine Hoover and John K. Howat. Art and the Empire City: New York, 1825-1861. New Haven and London, 2000: 38, 40, 78, 158,162, 165-166.
2001
"From the Collection: Washington's Prize Possessions." The Washington Post, April 15, 2001. Arts, sec. G4, repro.
2002
Katz, Wendy Jean. Regionalism and Reform: Art and Class Formation in Antebellum Cincinnati. Columbus, 2002: 6-7, 25-26, 137-139, 142, 151-167, repro.
2002
Pohl, Frances K. Framing America: A Social History of American Art. New York, 2002: 258-259, repro.
2002
Stone, Marjorie. "Between Ethics and Anguish: Feminist Ethics, Feminist Aesthetics, and Representations of Infanticide in "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point" and Beloved. In Between Ethics and Aesthetics: Crossing the Boundaries, edited by Dorota Glowacka and Stephen Boos. Albany, NY, 2002: 132-137, repro.
2006
Dabakis, Melissa. "Ain't I A Woman?" In Seeing High and Low: Representing Social Conflict in American Visual Culture, edited by Patricia Johnston. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 2006: 90-91, repro.
2006
Meslay, Olivier. "American Artists in France Before the Civil War." In American Artists and the Louvre, edited by Elizabeth Kennedy and Olivier Meslay. Exh. cat. Musée du Louvre, Paris, 2006: 50-51, repro.
2007
Ambrosini, Lynne D. "'Pure, White Radiance:' The Ideology of Marble in the Nineteenth Century." In Hiram Powers: Genius in Marble, ed. by Lynne D. Ambrosini and Rebecca A. G. Reynolds. Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, 2007: 19-23, repro.
2008
Ambrosini, Lynne D. "Eyeing the Sculptural Nude: A Short History of Public Response in the Modern Era." Sculpture Review 57 (Summer 2008): 9, repro.
2009
Clapper, Michael. "Imagining the Ordinary: John Rogers's Anticlassical Genre Sculptures as Purposely Popular Art." Winterthur Portfolio 43, no. 1 (2009): 5, repro.
2010
Lessing, Lauren. "Ties That Bind: Hiram Powers's Greek Slave and Nineteenth-Century Marriage." American Art 24, no. 1 (Spring 2010): 41-65, repro.
2010
MacKay, Keith D. "The Corcoran Mansion: House of Feasts." White House History, 27 (Spring 2010): 38-39, repro.
2010
Painter, Nell Irvin. The History of White People. New York and London, 2010: 53-54, repro.
2010
Sesnic, Jelena. Mrane Zene. Prikazi zenstva u americkoj knjizevnosti. Zagreb, 2010: 62-65, repro.
2010
Wood, Marcus. The Horrible Gift of Freedom: Atlantic Slavery and the Representation of Emancipation. Athens and London, 2010: 156-160, repro.
2011
Greenhalgh, Paul. "The Origin and meaning of the Exposition Medium." Fair World: A History of World's Fairs and Expositions From London to Shanghai, 1851-2010. Berkshire, 2011: 27, repro.
2011
Lessing, Lauren. "Angels in the Home: Adelicia Acklen's Sculpture Collection at Belmont Mansion, Nashville, Tennessee." Winterthur Portfolio 45, no. 1 (2011): 53-54, repro.
2012
Manganelli, Kimberly Snyder. Translatlantic Spectacles of Race: The Tragic Mulatta and the Tragic Muse. New Brunswick, NJ and London, 2012: 6-7, 71, 82, 87, repro.
2016
Cole, Bruce. "Breaking the Bonds of the Past." The Wall Street Journal (January 1, 2016): repro.