HIRAM POWERS (1805–1873)
Marble, 25 3/4 in. high
Signed and inscribed (on the rear underside of truncation): H. POWERS / Sculpt.
Modeled in 1865–67
RECORDED: cf. Clara Louise Dentler, “White Marble: The Life and Letters of Hiram Powers,” unpub. ms., Archives of American Art, 156 // cf. Charles Richard Weld, Florence: The New Capital of Italy (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1867), p. 222–23, as “Clytia” // cf. Henry Tuckerman, Book of the Artists (1867), p. 290 // cf. Clara Erskine Clement Waters and Laurence Hutton, Artists of the Nineteenth Century and Their Works (1879; revised 1884), p. 189 // cf. James Grant Wilson and John Fiske, eds., Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography V (1900), p. 98 // cf. Sylvia E. Crane, White Silence: Greenough, Powers, and Crawford, American Sculptors in Nineteenth Century Italy (1972), p. 238 // cf. Donald Reynolds, Hiram Powers and His Ideal Sculpture (New York: Garland Press, 1977), p. 1084 // cf. Hiram Powers’ Paradise Lost, exhib. cat. (Yonkers, New York: The Hudson River Museum, 1985–86), p. 23 fig. 10 illus. // Richard P. Wunder, Hiram Powers: Vermont Sculptor, 1805–1873 (Newark, New Jersey: University of Delaware Press, 1991), vol. I, p. 328–29; vol. II, pp. 129–30 illus. // cf. H. Nichols B. Clark, A Marble Quarry: The James H. Ricau Collection of Sculpture at the Chrysler Museum of Art (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1997), pp. 84–86 no. 13 illus. in color
Powers’s bust of Clytie bears a crown of sunflower petals arranged in a flame-like motif, itself an emblem of divine love and connected to charity since the Middle Ages. Powers surely knew of an ancient Roman bust that is at the British Museum (see H. Nichols B. Clark, A Marble Quarry: The James H. Ricau Collection of Sculpture at the Chrysler Museum of Art [New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1997], p. 70 fig. 29 illus.), a drawing of which Powers had used to modify the base of his ideal bust Proserpine, modeled in 1844. Powers, however, did not follow slavishly the modeling of the Roman bust, in which Clytie’s head is turned down to gaze at the ground, but instead he posed her looking to her right. In this regard, Powers’s Clytie is quite similar to his Hope, which he was in the process of modeling alongside Clytie. Likewise, Clytie’s crown of sunflower petals is repeated on another contemporaneous bust, Charity.
The first client to agree to purchase a replica of Clytie was Mr. Gardner Brewer (1806–1874), a distiller and dry-goods merchant from Boston who founded the Gardner Brewer & County, which represented a number of mills in New England. Powers wrote Gardner that for the commission he was “trying to make it my best ideal bust” (letter, January 28, 1865, as quoted in Wunder, vol. I, p. 129).
Clytie was a modestly popular figure in Powers’s oeuvre, with at least ten marble replicas ordered. A firsthand account of one visitor to Powers’s studio was published in 1867, while Powers was not yet finished modeling Clytie:
We found him working on an extremely beautiful figure of Clytia [sic], with a sunflower on her forehead—emblematic of her fate, in consequence of her jealousy of Leucothea. The face was so lovely, that I felt curious to know what country had furnished the model. “Many,” was the reply; “for, like the bee, extracting sweets from several flowers, I cull beauty from many faces; and here you see is the result. It was a face, lifeless indeed, but wonderfully lifelike, and—
so lovely, that if mirth could flush
Its rose of whiteness with the brightest blush,
Your heart would wish away that ruder glow”
(Charles Richard Weld, Florence: The New Capital of Italy [London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1867], p. 222–23).
The lines of poetry Powers recited are from Lord Byron’s “Sonnet—to Genevra”.