Hiram Powers was an internationally recognized sculptor in the nineteenth century, and certainly the leading American sculptor of Neoclassical works in his generation. Though he lived in worked in Italy, his presence and influence on America is remarkable.
Powers was born and raised on a farm in Woodstock, Vermont, but moved at fourteen to Cincinnati with his family, where he found work as an assistant in a wax museum. Finding time to study the collections in Cincinnati’s Western Museum, Hiram went on study as a pupil under the German sculptor Frederick Eckstein. When an installation of won him recognition, Powers received a commission to sculpt the likeness of Reverend Robert Hamilton Bishop. Traveling to Washington, D.C. Powers sculpted a portrait of Andrew Jackson. This garnered Powers further renown, supplying him with more commissions for prominent statesman and giving him a new sense of financial security. After marrying to Elizabeth Gleason in 1832, Powers worked on more marble works, including a bust of John Quincy Adams.
In 1837, he relocated with his family to Florence, Italy. At the time, Florence was a hub of American expatriate artists, where Powers was introduced into a new artist community that included the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Robert and Elizabeth Browning. In order to meet demand for his commissions, he took to carving marble in 1838 with the aid a fellow American sculptor Horatio Greenough. As his clientele grew, Powers developed helpful tools to speed up the process in his studio. Florence proved to be the ideal location for Powers, located close to marble quarries and bursting with historical influence. He would remain working in Italy for the rest of his life, and in turn prompt a generation of neoclassical sculptors to follow in his footsteps.
Hiram was one of the most famous expatriate artists working in Italy. This owes to the success of The Greek Slave. This sculpture was the centerpiece of an exhibition that traveled the United States, gaining Power’s praise and garnering significant publicity since it was the first publicly exhibited life size-female nude sculpture in America.