Throughout his artistic career, Hiram Powers was fascinated with Eve. In 1842, he created a plaster sculpture of Eve before her “fall,” titled Eve Tempted. Decades later, in Eve Disconsolate, her gestures of shame, as she points to the snake at her feet, reveal the dramatic moment after she has tasted the apple from the Tree of Knowledge and realizes she is naked. The artist, referencing her and Adam’s subsequent banishment from the Garden of Eden, also called the sculpture Paradise Lost.
Powers and his contemporaries admired ancient Greek and Roman statues, many of which they studied first hand during travels to Italy. Most figures were nude or only partially draped, showcasing the artists’ skill at depicting a realistic human form. Powers made use of contrapposto, the Italian term for a pose in which the weight is shifted to one foot, with a resulting twist of the torso. In both sculpture and painting, the technique adds a lifelike quality to the depiction.
During the American Gilded Age, the story of Eve’s temptation provided an acceptable reason for her nudity, which might otherwise have been considered scandalous, given the morality of the day. Alexander Turney Stewart, a New York City department store magnate, purchased the sculpture for the art gallery in his mansion at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street.
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