Mr. Editor.—Your several favorable notices of that distinguished American artist, Hiram Powers has induced me to send you the following extract from the “American Review,” giving an account of a visit paid to him by Thorwaldsen. By publishing it you will much oblige
(We give the extract with pleasure, and commend it to all of our readers.—Ed.)
THORWALDSEN’S VISIT TO POWERS, THE SCULPTOR.
“Just before the clay model of Eve was done, I received the honor of a visit from the great Thorwaldsen. He was passing through Florence on his journey to Rome. He had but a short time to spend, and this he wished to pass with his friends. But being strongly urged by a gentleman who had often been at my studio, he consented to drop in for a moment. The first intimation I had of his visit was from a servant, who came hastily into my studio and announced that Thorwaldsen was at the door and begged permission to come in This was a trying moment—I could hear the gaze and criticism of others with composure, hut to pass the scrutiny of such a man, for whom I had a greater veneration than for any artist living—it was no common ordeal.
“Presently he came lumbering in—the Patriarch of Sculptors! His air was confident, hut not haughty—his chest large—his head grand and square, hut he had a look of great benevolence and intelligence. His long grey locks were floating loosely over his shoulders, and his walk was full of majesty and simplicity. He was the very man I should have taken for Thorwaldsen, had I met him on the desert. I had never seen any likeness of him, but had pictured just such a man.
“He uncovered his head and bowed in the most respectful manner, and only put on his hat after my repeated solicitations. He said he was very sorry to disturb me, for he found me at work. I replied, of course, as an humble disciple in the art might; but what I said on that occasion is a matter of little importance. He cast an eye over the studio, and the first thing that seemed to arrest his attention was a bust of Mr. Webster. He examined it with great attention, and as he did so he stood back a few steps from it, and again, taking off his hat, he declared with surprise, “I never saw so grand a head before”—a greater compliment to the orator, as was right, than to the artist, for there is nothing of mine about it. He then stood before General Jackson, which bust he regarded with as much attention and satisfaction, apparently, as Webster’s. After examining most of the busts, I took him behind a screen to see the Eve. He examined it very attentively, and turned it round several times on the rollers, upon which all statues, when modeling, are placed, to be made to turn easily. Without saying “by your leave sir,” he took out a large piece of clay from a portion of the hair, with his fingers: “now I see the flesh under it, and can trace a connection of the parts of the shoulders.” He touched the hair in another place: “and I get a glimpse of this contour,” pointing it out. Then coming down he made a mark on one of the knees: “this movement should he a little more pronounced.” He then appeared to have done. I told him I should always feel grateful for his criticism, and begged he would speak freely, and I never perhaps felt more inwardly a desire than I now felt, to have him go on. “I have pointed out all that seemed to me to detract from your statue—I can see nothing else.” When he was about leaving, I told him I expected to come to Rome during the winter, and I should esteem it a great honor if I could he allowed to take his bust. He condescended to say, he would do so with unfeigned satisfaction. He then expressed very warmly the pleasure and the surprise he had felt during his visit, and wished me all the success I desired; he very cordially pressed my hand and took his leave.”
I have heard this visit related by a friend, who heard a minute account of it from the gentleman who accompanied Thorwaldsen on this occasion. Mr. Powers has, in this conversation, withheld the most interesting part of the story. I am informed (from the source above alluded to) that Thorwaldsen felt reluctance to go to Powers’s studio only because he was pressed for time; and he gave up an important visit to make this. He had a great desire to see the works of an artist who was already eclipsing most sculptors of his time. During the interview, which lasted much longer than he had intended, he expressed the warmest admiration of all Powers’s works. But when he drove off in his carriage he exclaimed, with the greatest earnestness—”I can’t make such busts—and never saw a man that could— nor do I believe he ever had an equal in that department of the art. I esteem Mr. Powers not only the first sculptor of his age, but the greatest since Michael Angelo. He will form a school of his own which will he a new era in art.” These sentiments he often expressed afterwards on several occasions, particularly in Rome, where he often made use of the singular declaration, that “Mr. Powers was without a rival in modern times, except Michael Angelo ; that no ancient or modern, of any age, had ever made such busts; and he believed he would he equally great in any branch of sculpture.”
When Powers raised the curtain that covered the Eve, he felt that in justice to himself he ought to say that this was his first attempt at a statue, and it was not yet finished. Thorwaldsen replied—”You say, sir, it is your first statue—any man might be proud of it as his last.”