Louisa Powers’ Hand

Copied Hiram Powers, Louisa Powers' Hand, 1839, plaster and fabric trim, 52 121 12 in. ( cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase in memory of Ralph Cross Johnson, 1968.155.128
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Artwork Details

Louisa Powers’ Hand
52 121 12 in. ( cm)
Credit Line
Museum purchase in memory of Ralph Cross Johnson
Mediums Description
plaster and fabric trim
  • Figure
  • Study — sculpture model
  • Figure female — fragment — hand
  • Study — anatomical study
Object Number

Artwork Description

Hiram Powers (1805-73) was among the first American sculptors to establish an international reputation, rising to fame in the late 1840s with his Greek Slave, a life-size marble sculpture of a chained, nude woman. Few could have predicted Powers' incredible success from his humble beginnings on a farm in Ohio or his time in Washington, DC, where he made somber plaster portraits of four early presidents and other luminaries. Powers moved to Florence, Italy, with his wife and young children in 1837, lured there by its abundance of fine marble and highly skilled stone carvers. He quickly realized there was much to gain from making ideal compositions of nude figures drawn from literary, biblical, and historical themes. Powers set up a studio dividing labor among several assistants and, using the latest technologies such as the pointing machine, to create numerous replicas of his most popular designs in marble. Although he always intended to return to the United States, Powers remained abroad until his death and became an unofficial ambassador for American culture. He was a central figure in the expatriate colony in Florence, where he masterfully marketed his work to British nobles and American collectors touring Europe.
Luce Center Label

Hiram Powers’s first daughter, Louisa Greenough Powers, was born in 1838. Powers made many casts of his daughter’s hands and forearms, including Louisa Powers’ Hand, taken when she was one year old. This cast was displayed in the artist’s studio on a luxurious green cushion. From this, Powers modeled a sculpture of a small hand resting on an open sunflower, a symbol of devotion. The piece became so popular that clients requested replicas for many years after the first version was completed. The later Loulie’s Hand, modeled in 1851, was commissioned by James Lenox, a New York merchant and philanthropist.

Luce Object Quote

“[The cast] is as fresh and pure as the day you cast and gave it to me.” Louisa Greenough Powers, 1860, in Richard P. Wunder, Hiram Powers, 1989-91