Monday, May 12, 2003

Cincinnati Wing Preview


Victorian viewers flocked to Powers' nudes

By Marilyn Bauer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Counting down to the Saturday opening of Cincinnati Art Museum's Cincinnati Wing.

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"Eve Tempted," Hiram Powers' first full-length idealized nude sculpture, was a vision of white marble. Molded in 1842, it showed Eve turning the apple over in her hand, contemplating the yield to temptation.

The biblical context of the statue made it possible for Powers to present a nude within the context of Victorian society. But it was his next statue, "Greek Slave," that made Powers not only a celebrity but financially secure.

An arrestingly lifelike nude figure whose hands are chained before her, "Greek Slave" combined the forces of sensuality and moral restraint in a display of exquisite workmanship.

She was sent on a tour of the United States where she drew large crowds, as well as controversy because of Powers' sensuous depiction of beauty bowed.

The more controversy, of course, the more people flocked to see it. It became the most famous work of art in the 19th century. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a sonnet in her honor and miniature copies of the "Slave" were popular well into the 1900s.

Author Henry James noted sarcastically: "so undressed, yet so refined, in sugar-white alabaster, exposed under little glass covers in such American homes as could bring themselves to think such things right."

Powers sculpted "Eve Disconsolate," the statue in the Cincinnati Wing entryway (and pictured at right) as a companion piece.

E-mail mbauer@enquirer.com

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