Hiram Powers ( American, 1805 - 1873 )

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General Description

In 1853, building on the international success of his celebrated statue Greek Slave, expatriate sculptor Hiram Powers began work in Rome on a full-size allegorical figure called America. In contrast to his earlier, nude work, the personification of America wore a tunic and diadem reminiscent of the classical past, linking the young United States with the republics of Greece and Rome, symbolic birthplaces of democracy.

America proved so popular with the public that private patrons commissioned at least twenty bust-length reproductions from Powers. The Dallas Museum of Art's example is not only one of the earliest busts of America but also the only one signed and dated by Powers. It exemplifies his 19th-century synthesis of the Real with the Ideal, his belief that by studying nature as she is, one can "obtain some pretty clear notions of what she ought to be." Powers has visualized our country as an idealized female figure with overtones of Juno and Minerva.

Drawn from

  • Wiliam Keyse Rudolph The Pauline Gill Sullivan Associate Curator of American Art May 2006

  • Gail Davitt, DMA unpublished material, 1986-1987.

Fun Facts

  • The diadem on this bust has thirteen stars to represent the thirteen original American colonies.

Web Resources

  • Greek Slave
    The Washington, D.C. Legacy of Hiram Powers' 1840s Masterpiece
    Read Evan J. Berkowitz's Smithsonian Insider blog post about the placement and recent 3-D printed replica of this sculpture.

  • America, Hiram Powers, SAAM
    View a full-length version of Hiram Powers' America at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.