Sarah Cash, National Gallery of Art
Hiram Powers The Greek Slave (1841-1843) Marble, 66 inches
Frederick Douglass’ reduced size Parian porcelain replica of the Greek Slave, Frederick Douglas National Historic Site
Frederick Douglass 1876 portrait by Kendall Warren, National Portrait Gallery
John Absolon, View in the East Nave (The Greek Slave, by Power [sic]; from Recollections of the Great Exhibition, 1851
The Corcoran Gallery of Art building, 1874-1897 by James Renwick. Now the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian
Hiram Powers’ marble sculpture The Greek Slave, the first publicly exhibited, life-size, American sculpture depicting a fully nude female figure, met with unprecedented popular and critical success upon its completion and frequent display in the mid-nineteenth century. Arguably the most famous American sculpture ever, it not only won Powers international acclaim but also enhanced the reputation of American art and culture on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1851 Washington, DC banker and philanthropist William Wilson Corcoran purchased the first of five full-size variants of the original marble (1844, Raby Castle, England). Corcoran’s version has been owned by the National Gallery of Art since 2014, when the Corcoran Gallery of Art closed its doors.
Powers chose a subject inspired by Greece’s struggle for independence in the 1820s, but many literary, artistic, and critical responses to the sculpture linked it to the ongoing debate over American slavery. Sarah Cash will focus on how this aspect of The Greek Slave intersected with the sculpture’s display in Washington, DC, both briefly in 1848 and then for a far longer period, from 1851 to the present. This lecture will consider the work’s impact on those who saw the sculpture, purchased it, sold it, exhibited it, designed spaces for it, and more. Most notably, the talk will investigate the impact of the sculpture and its meaning on the abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass. Conversely, it will address the impact of the sculpture’s travels and displays on its accumulated meaning and importance over time.
Sarah Cash is Associate Curator of American and British Paintings at the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Previously she served as curator of American art at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, director of the Maier Museum of Art at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, and Assistant Curator at the Amon Carter Museum. She has also held positions at the Yale University Art Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. Ms. Cash received her B.A. in Art History from Smith College and an M.A. from the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art. She is a 2014 fellow in the Center for Curatorial Leadership and a graduate of the Museum Management Institute in Berkeley, California. She also serves on the national advisory board of Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Among her most recent publications are “Perspective: John Singer Sargent, Four studies for En route pour la pêche and Fishing for Oysters at Cancale, 1877,” in Katherine M. Bourguignon and Peter John Brownlee, eds.; Conversations with the Collection: A Terra Foundation Collection Handbook (2018); “‘Encouraging American genius’: creative exchange at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Corcoran College of Art + Design,” in Irina D. Costache and Clare Kunny, eds.; Academics, Artists, and Museums: 21st-Century Partnerships (2018); and Contributing author, Highlights from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, National Gallery of Art, Washington (2016). Among the many exhibitions she has curated are American Masterworks from the Corcoran, 1815–1940, National Gallery of Art, in collaboration with Nancy Anderson (2015); Recent Acquisitions: American Art from the Johns Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art (2013); American Journeys: Visions of Place, Corcoran Gallery of Art (2013–2014); and Sargent and the Sea, Corcoran Gallery of Art with travel to Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Royal Academy of Arts, London (2009–2010).