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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.


H. POWERS. sc. / 1846.


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
[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.
Cooke's Gallery, New Orleans, 1848-1849.
Gallery of the Western Art Union, Cincinnati, 1850-1851.
Tastemakers, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, 18 January-24 February 1957.
Past and Present: 250 Years of American Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1966, unpublished checklist.
The Century Club Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 21 July - 13 September 1993, unpublished checklist.
Macleod, William. Catalogue of the Paintings, Statuary, Casts, Bronzes, &c. of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, 1882: 63, Octagon Room, no. 1.
Macleod, William. Catalogue of the Paintings, Statuary, Casts, Bronzes, &c. of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, 1887: 70-71, Octagon Room, no. 1.
Corcoran Gallery of Art. Catalogue of the Sculptures in the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, 1922: 61, no. 2044, repro.
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.
Getlein, Frank and Jo Ann Lewis. The Washington D.C. Art Review: The Art Explorer's Guide to Washington. New York, 1980: 14.
Gibbs-Smith, C. H. The Great Exhibition of 1851. London, 1981: 129, fig. 184, repro.
Green, Vivien M. "Hiram Powers's Greek Slave: Emblem of Freedom." The American Art Journal 14, no. 4 (Autumn 1982): 31-39, repro.
Cosentino, Andrew J. and Henry H. Glassie. The Capital Image: Painters in Washington, 1800-1915. Washington, 1983: 125.
Moore, Barbara. "Recalling the Melody: Planning an Installation at the Corcoran." Museum News 65, no. 4 (April 1987): 37-39, repro.
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.
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.
Headley, Janet A. "The (Non) Literary Sculpture of Hiram Powers." Nineteenth Century Studies 4 (1990): 23-25, 31, 34, 38, repro.
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.
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.
Johns, Elizabeth. American Genre Painting: The Politics of Everyday Life. New Haven, 1991: 116-117, repro.
Roberson, Samuel A. and William H. Gerdts. "The Greek Slave." The Museum 17, nos. 1 & 2 (Winter - Spring 1965): 1, 15.
Wilmerding, John. "George Caleb Bingham's Geometries and the Shape of America." American Views: Essays on American Art. Princeton, 1991: 190.
Wunder, Richard P. Hiram Powers: Vermont Sculptor, 1805-1873. Neward, DE, 1991: Vol II:157, 161-162, 232, no. 192, repro.
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.
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.
Duncan, Carol. The Aesthetics of Power: Essays in Critical Art History. Cambridge, 1993: 111-112, repro.
Reynolds, Donald Martin. Masters of American Sculpture: The Figurative Tradition from the American Renaissance to the Millenium. New York, 1993: 18, repro.
The Human Factor: Figurative Sculpture Reconsidered. Exh. cat. The Albuquerque Museum, 1993: 2, repro.
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.
Hollander, John. The Gazer's Spirit: Poems Speaking to Silent Works of Art. Chicago, 1995: 160-162, 369, repro.
Rose, Anne C. Voices of the Marketplace: American Thought and Culture, 1830-1860. New York, 1995: 105-106, repro.
Wallach, Alan. Exhibiting Contradiction: Essays on the Art Museum in the United States. Amherst, 1998: 28, repro.
Colaguori, Jennifer. Hiram Powers' Greek Slave and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 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.
Junker, Patricia. "Thomas Cole's Prometheus Bound: An Allegory for the 1840s." American Art Journal 31, nos. 1 & 2 (2000): 46-49, repro.
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.
"From the Collection: Washington's Prize Possessions." The Washington Post, April 15, 2001. Arts, sec. G4, repro.
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.
Pohl, Frances K. Framing America: A Social History of American Art. New York, 2002: 258-259, repro.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ambrosini, Lynne D. "Eyeing the Sculptural Nude: A Short History of Public Response in the Modern Era." Sculpture Review 57 (Summer 2008): 9, repro.
Clapper, Michael. "Imagining the Ordinary: John Rogers's Anticlassical Genre Sculptures as Purposely Popular Art." Winterthur Portfolio 43, no. 1 (2009): 5, repro.
Lessing, Lauren. "Ties That Bind: Hiram Powers's Greek Slave and Nineteenth-Century Marriage." American Art 24, no. 1 (Spring 2010): 41-65, repro.
MacKay, Keith D. "The Corcoran Mansion: House of Feasts." White House History, 27 (Spring 2010): 38-39, repro.
Painter, Nell Irvin. The History of White People. New York and London, 2010: 53-54, repro.
Sesnic, Jelena. Mrane Zene. Prikazi zenstva u americkoj knjizevnosti. Zagreb, 2010: 62-65, repro.
Wood, Marcus. The Horrible Gift of Freedom: Atlantic Slavery and the Representation of Emancipation. Athens and London, 2010: 156-160, repro.
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.
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.
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.
Cole, Bruce. "Breaking the Bonds of the Past." The Wall Street Journal (January 1, 2016): repro.