George Perkins Marsh - Hiram Powers Correspondence
George Perkins Marsh and Hiram Powers (1805-1873), the most famous American sculptor of the nineteenth century, had been boyhood friends in Woodstock, Vermont. They lost touch when the Powers family moved to Cincinnati but resumed contact in 1847...
George Perkins Marsh and Hiram Powers (1805-1873), the most famous American sculptor of the nineteenth century, had been boyhood friends in Woodstock, Vermont. They lost touch when the Powers family moved to Cincinnati but resumed contact in 1847 when Marsh and a former governor of Vermont, Charles Paine, wrote to Powers about commissions for the Vermont State House. By this time Powers was an established sculptor in Florence, where he had emigrated in 1837. The two men renewed their relationship after Marsh visited Italy in 1849 en route to his diplomatic post in Constantinople, and maintained close personal ties until Powers' death in 1873.
Powers began his artistic career in Cincinnati, excelling in portrait busts. A wealthy benefactor financed several trips to Washington, where he made portraits of President Andrew Jackson, Chief Justice John Marshall, and other statesmen that were highly praised. When he moved to Italy with his family, he continued with portraiture as well as full length figures taken from history and myth. His "Greek Slave" (1841) was undoubtedly his most famous work. A standing figure of a nude woman in shackles, done in the Neo-classical tradition of the day, it inspired both praise and condemnation and established his international reputation.
Powers had a long and bitter relationship with members of Congressional committees who selected work for the new U.S. Capitol. This and other commissions are fully discussed in his correspondence with Marsh. The two men also shared an interest in Classical sculpture. Powers' letters describe in some detail the thinking that underlay his approach to art.
In addition to artistic matters, Powers and Marsh wrote frequently about the Civil War, its personalities, conduct, and significance. The letters also contain descriptions of the Powers family and of their circle of friends, including Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Also figuring in the correspondence are Caroline Crane Marsh, Marsh's wife, and George Ozias Marsh, his son, as well as Longworth Powers, Powers' son.
The letters in this collection date from 1847 to 1871. They are housed in the Marsh Collection at the Special Collections Department, Bailey-Howe Library, University of Vermont; the Powers Papers at the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, and the New-York Historical Society.