Hiram Powers (American, 1805-1873): A sculpted white marble Bust of Christ

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Lot 96
Hiram Powers, American (1805-1873)
An important sculpted white marble bust of 'The Ideal Christ'

Sold for £ 240,000 (US$ 328,984) inc. premium


15 Apr 2008, 14:00 BST

London, New Bond Street

Hiram Powers, American (1805-1873)
An important sculpted white marble bust of 'The Ideal Christ'
his head looking slightly downward to sinister, with finely carved curling long hair and beard, his shoulders clad in a folded and draped robe, signed to the rear H. POWERS sculp 1871, on circular socle, 80cm high (31" high)


  • Provenance:

    Purchased by Thomas Keay Tapling (1855-1891) Rome, 27th June 1873.
    By descent to his sister, Florence Alexandra Annie Tapling (d. 1956), m. Thomas Francis Freemantle, 3rd Baron Cottlesloe (1862-1956).
    By descent to their son, Lt. Col. Sir John Walgrave Halfrod Freemantle, 4th Baron Cottesloe (1900-1994).
    By descent to his daughter, the Hon. Ann Freemantle, m. Timothy Gerald Martin Brooks of Wistow Hall, Leicestershire
    By descent to the present owner.

    Executed by the celebrated American neo-classical sculptor Hiram Powers in 1871, the bust, its whereabouts previously unknown until recent identification, is the only known surviving marble example from an edition of three replicas produced during the 1860's and early 1870's and is recorded as being purchased in Rome by a 'Lord Tapling' in 1873. The two remaining earlier replicas dating from 1866 and 1868 which were originally in private American family collections are now lost although the original plaster working models with their bronze pointings dating from 1864 and 1865 together with a further fragmentary plaster model are now in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institute, Washington.

    Literature and references:
    Richard P. Winder, Hiram Powers, Vermont Sculptor 1805-1873, vol II,
    Catalogue of Works, 1991, pp.179-180.

    The subject matter of the Ideal Christ was inspired by the popularity of an Italian carved ivory crucifix owned by Charles Edwards Lester and exhibited throughout the United States in the early 1860's. Power's is known to have owned a cast reproduction of the famous crucifix and it was this copy that inspired him to create a slightly larger than life bust representation of the savior in the manner of this antique piece. A letter written by Sir John Naesmyth, a client of Powers, dated 6th February 1864, acknowledged the receipt of Power's model of the Lester crucifix and continues stating how happy he was to learn that Powers was contemplating modelling a bust of Christ. In late January 1865 Powers subsequently wrote to Naesmyth confirming that he had completed a clay model of the subject which had taken three months to complete.

    Powers subsequently modelled two working plaster casts of the bust with bronze pointing pins inserted to aid the manufacture of marble replica editions. The initial plaster cast was rejected by Power's first client and it was the second slightly modified cast that was used as the basis of the three finished marble editions. Both plaster casts are now at the NMAA, Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC. Powers also created a further plaster fragment cast of the head, also at Washington which was modelled with fewer ringlets of hair suggesting that it was possibly made as an experimental alternative to the full bust version.

    The first marble replica of the work was ordered by the Wiliam Henry Aspinwall of New York after he visited Powers studio on the 10th April 1865. Aspinwall wrote to Powers from Milan with an order for the work on the proviso that certain modifications be made to the initial plaster cast which involved increasing the fullness of the mouth and reducing the heaviness of the moustache. Powers presumably agreed to these requests which resulted in a second plaster cast used to create the Aspinwall bust. Aspinwall wrote to Powers on the 16th March 1866 anxious to take possession of the piece although it was not until the 5th May 1867 that the piece was delivered, although studio records for the bust list it as being cut by Ambuchi in 1866. The bust, probably measuring just under 27" high was inscribed to the back 'Executed to the Order of William H. Aspinwall., H.POWERS Sculp' although its whereabouts are now not known.

    The second marble replica was ordered by Joshua Huntington Wolcott of Boston in around 1866 at the time he sat for Powers for a portrait bust. Although Powers is recorded on the 23rd March 1867 as replying to an enquiry from Wolcott earlier that year, informing him that work on the bust had commenced, studio records show that the piece was not cut by Ambuchi until 1868. On the 19th July of that year, Powers sent the bust to Leghorn for shipment to the United States although at this point Wolcott still owed one hundred pounds on the piece. Estimated at the same approximate height, the inscriptions and the whereabouts of this bust also remain unknown.

    The third marble replica is listed by Richard P. Winder 'Hiram Powers, Vermont Sculptor 1805-1873' in inventory of the contents of Power's studio records as being sold to a 'Lord Tapling' on the 27th June 1873 with an additional note that 'no such person is listed in G. H. Whites 'The Complete Peerage' (London 1953)'.

    Recent research regarding the above white marble bust which appears to be of a slightly larger size has identified it as the missing third replica by Hiram Powers with the misleading purchaser name 'Lord Tapling' recorded in Power's studio inventory records referring to a young and very wealthy English student called Thomas Keay Tapling who presumably purchased the bust whilst traveling in Italy at the tender age of seventeen.

    Tapling (30th October 1855 - 11th April 1891) was a politician, businessman, cricketer and noted philatelist. Born in Dulwich, South London, Tapling's father was a Lincolnshire born businessman who made his fortune from the manufacture of carpets, pianos and other furnishings.

    The young Tapling was educated at Harrow and attended university at Trinity College, Cambridge where he excelled at cricket playing for Trinity College, Cambridge, Trinity College Long Vacation Club and Cambridge University Long Vacation Club, also later touring India and Ceylon in 1889-90. Tapling became a Conservative Member of Parliament for the Harbough Divsion of Leicestershire from 1886-1891 whilst running his the family business, the carpet and soft furnishing producers Thomas Tapling & Co. His passionate interest in philatery began while a schoolboy at Harrow when he recieved a Christmas gift of £100 with the proviso that he spent it. This life-long interest resulted in a hugely important stamp and postal collection bequeathed to the British Museum which now forms The Tapling Collection in the Philatelic Section of the British Library. He began the collection as a schoolboy in 1865 and added to this by purchasing existing collections from other philatelists during the 1870's and 1880's. He joined the Philatelic Society in London in 1871 and served as vice-president from 1871 to 1881. His collection was progressive in its outlook and it's display and is seen today as being key to the development of modern collecting patterns. Tapling died of pleurisy at the age of thirty five at Gumley Hall, Market Harborough, Leicestershire. His sister then inherited his estate.
Hiram Powers, American (1805-1873) An important sculpted white marble bust of 'The Ideal Christ'
Hiram Powers, American (1805-1873) An important sculpted white marble bust of 'The Ideal Christ'
Hiram Powers (American, 1805-1873): A sculpted white marble Bust of Christ
Hiram Powers (American, 1805-1873): A sculpted white marble Bust of Christ
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