This article begins with a now lost daguerreotype by John Mayall of Hiram Powers’s famous Greek Slave, first exhibited in London in 1845. It was recorded as ‘The Greek Slave by Power [sic], the celebrated American sculptor’ in the Catalogue of Daguerreotype Panoramas, […] Photographic Pictures, Portraits of Eminent Persons, &c., exhibited in Mayall’s London studio, from April 1847.1 Unlike some of the other early displays of photographs of sculpture recorded in surviving catalogues,2 Mayall’s was a large one-man show (140 daguerreotypes) in a dedicated commercial space, and his daguerreotype was of a recent sculpture, made in marble for John Grant in 1844.3 The exhibition contributed to the launch of the studio that Mayall had only just opened as Professor Highschool, which he advertised by highlighting his previous experience in Philadelphia, partly because American daguerreotypes were prized for their clarity: 4

Daguerreotype Gallery of Portraiture and Fine Art, 433, West Strand, […] — Professor HIGHSCHOOL (of Philadelphia, United States) TAKES PORTRAITS in his most exquisite manner by this new process […]. The Gallery, containing panoramas of the Falls of Niagara taken on the spot; photographic illustrations of fine art, &tc. Open from nine A.M. till dark.5

In the advertisement and in the exhibition, potential clients were enticed with a mixture of new technology and the aura of exclusivity and taste that came from the reference to ‘fine art’.

Not far from the Daguerreotype Gallery were the premises of Henry Graves and Co., print publishers and sellers, where Greek Slave had been first exhibited to great acclaim in 1845.6 In the spring of 1847, they exhibited Powers’s Fisher Boy:

We have been very much pleased with a statue in marble, to be seen at Messrs. Graves, in Pall-mall, of a Neapolitan Fisher Boy […] the work of Mr. Hiram Powers, an American artist […] already favourably known in this country by his statue, recently exhibited, of the Greek Slave Girl.7

The two exhibitions may have overlapped — Graves’s is reviewed in the newspapers in March; Mayall’s started in April — and it is easy to imagine Graves’s clients becoming curious about the new medium when spotting the daguerreotype of Greek Slave in Mayall’s gallery, after having seen Fisher Boy. Or sitters at the portrait studio, in 1847 part of an expanding group of first adopters of the medium, being reassured of its credentials by the visual connection with the more established print shop nearby. This article explores some of the strands of this cat’s cradle of references — visual, geographical, temporal, and cultural — formed by representations, iterations, and appearances of Greek Slave in London in the decades after its first exhibition. I use this nineteenth-century sculptural celebrity to unpack what Stephen Bann has described as ‘a complex polyphony’ created by the ‘aims and aspirations’ of painters, printmakers, and photographers; and Katherine Haskins as ‘a condition of reciprocity’ between paintings and reproductive prints.8 My focus is on photography and sculpture, media that have the issue of reproduction at their core, to explore how sculptures might have worked to serve the aims and aspirations of photographers and their clients. While photography was emerging as an art of the copy rather than invention, sculptural objects blurred the boundaries between original and reproduction, even before they were photographed or turned into prints. Printmaking was still the established medium to disseminate works of art, setting the standards of price and quantity against which photography had to prove itself. My focus on reproductions means that the many plays, poems, ballads, boats, and racehorses based on, dedicated to, or named after Greek Slave are excluded from this account. Tableaux vivants and sugar confectionery make a brief appearance as the most ephemeral reproductions of Greek Slave as popular culture.9

It is unknown when Mayall photographed the statue, but it was not in 1845 as he was then still in America, where he had practised as a photographer since 1843. He might have photographed Greek Slave at John Grant’s townhouse, after returning to London in 1846, expressly for exhibition (Wunder, Hiram Powers, II, 161). Street-level displays were important appurtenances of photographic studios, usually sited at the top of buildings to maximize daylight. They enticed customers with demonstrations of the photographer’s skills, and provided somewhere congenial to wait for one’s portraits. In a similar vein, Graves’s exhibitions of sculptures were part of the marketing of his engravings. Both 1847 exhibitions, then, capitalized on the success of Greek Slave, at its peak in the 1840s and 1850s. These were decades of unprecedented boom in the market for art and ‘Art Manufactures’, driven by the interests of entrepreneurs looking for new markets; artists seeking new modes of patronage; collectors who wanted to secure the value of their investment; and a widening, newly enfranchised middle class,10 interested in art partly as a way to shore up their new status by adopting the spending patterns of the aristocracy.11 As Martina Droth, Jason Edwards, and Michael Hatt show in ‘Sculpture Victorious’, a combination of technological innovations, from sculpting machines to photography, contributed to the increasing presence of sculpture in middle-class homes.12 Their exhibition comes at a time of growing interest in photography’s contribution to the dissemination of sculpture, and the role that ‘images of sculpture have played […] in the history of photography’.13 My interest centres on how sculpture was used in the reception and understanding of photography, and in how the materiality of specific photographic ‘objects’ — here, daguerreotypes, paper prints, and stereographs — interacted with that of sculptural objects to affect the viewer. The Greek Slave is a pertinent case study, as its first exhibition and reception history coincides with the first decades of the development of photography, at a time when its technologies, uses, and conceptualizations were still tentative.

In 1847, Henry Cole and Joseph Cundall founded Felix Summerly’s Art Manufactures, a joint venture with Minton & Co., dedicated to improving public taste and connecting ‘the best in Art with familiar objects in daily use’.14 This new venture was in competition with the older Art Union of London, the lottery that distributed prints and Copeland’s statuettes to its subscribers, and its journal the Art-Union that became the Art-Journal following a change in ownership in 1849.15 One of its founders was Henry Graves, who by 1847 was the leading London purveyor of fine engravings and expensive art books.16 His 1845 exhibition of Greek Slave had been widely covered in the press, especially after reports that Prince Albert and members of the aristocracy had been to see the statue.17 The reviews that followed established some of the terms in which the statue was discussed for the rest of the century. These included its relationship to classical nudes, in particular statues of Venus from the Medici’s to Canova’s, and to recent events in the war between Turkey and Greece.18 Many highlighted the importance of viewing the ‘particularly beautiful’ back of the statue, to appreciate ‘the natural moulding of the figure’.19 And some expressed doubts about the ‘objectionable chain’ as too literal an accessory for a medium that should be allegorical.20Greek Slave was soon famous enough for new commissions of the statue to be considered worth reporting,21 and for Punch to satirize its disavowal of slavery in America by announcing that Powers would shortly exhibit a companion piece:

‘The American Slave’ […] the figure of a negro, with his hands fastened with a chain, on the manacles of which is cut the American eagle.22

The press was still interested enough in 1847 to report that Greek Slave had arrived safely in New York, the beginning of a tour of America that reached Boston in the summer of 1848 where Southworth and Hawes photographed it (Figs. 1, 2).23Greek Slave, however, also never left London. In June 1848, the Athenaeum announced that ‘Hiram Power’s [sic] “Greek Slave Girl” [was] again on view at Messrs. Grave’s in Pall Mall’, on the same page as a review of new daguerreotypes by Mayall.24 This second exhibition coincided with the preparation of Graves’s steel engraving from it, made by James Thomson from a drawing by Roffe.25 In August, while a tableau vivant of the statue could be enjoyed at the Hall of Rome in Great Windmill Street, an entertainment ‘both intellectual and amusing’, the Art-Union announced the inclusion of ‘Hiram Power’s [sic] “Greek Slave”’ in their forthcoming series of engravings of sculptures by contemporary artists.26 In November, adverts for ‘The Greek Slave; A Statuette in Parian, by Hiram Powers; 15 inches high; Price 42s’ started to appear in the press, one of Summerly’s ‘New Art-Manufactures […] Sold by Joseph Cundall, 12, Old Bond-street’.27 Made by Minton in the new marble-like statuary porcelain that made statuettes one of the quintessential ‘Victorian Things’, by the end of the year Summerly’s Greek Slave was ‘Sold by all Dealers’ in London and beyond.28

Fig. 1 

Unknown (was Southworth and Hawes), untitled, 1848, daguerreotype. Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <http://www.metmuseum.org/>.

Fig. 2 

Attributed to Southworth and Hawes, ‘The Greek Slave by Hiram Powers’, 1848, daguerreotype. The J. Paul Getty Museum. Getty’s Open Content Scheme.

For the rest of the decade, and in the early 1850s, adverts for ‘“The Greek Slave”, A Statuette in Parian’, jostled for attention with announcements of Art-Journal engravings of the same, at ‘Half-a-Crown’ cheaper than ‘Messrs Henry Graves & Co. […] Magnificent Engravings […] of The Greek Slave; Engraved by J. Thomson, from the celebrated and beautiful Statue of Hiram Powers, exhibited […] in the year 1845’ priced at £1 10s. for the print, £2 20s. for ‘First Proofs’.29 While the statuettes were advertised as ‘Presents for Birthdays, Weddings and all Festivals’, and declared ‘delightful’ when they were exhibited at the Royal Institution in Manchester, the engravings were puffed as ‘essential to the Artist, instructive to the Amateur, […] and interesting to the Public’, perhaps reconfiguring the rivalry between the Art Union and Summerly’s as one between intellectual lines versus the sculptural object’s more sensual appeal.30 The appeal to the senses was probably even more explicit in Madame Wharton’s tableau vivant shows at the Walhalla in Leicester Square, which included her ‘original and inimitable personation of Greek Slave’, admission one shilling, stalls three shillings.31 When the Times reviewed the American section of the Great Exhibition of 1851, it quipped that the statue, pirouetting on its pedestal, performed a better Greek Slave than Madame Wharton.32 Even before the Great Exhibition opened, the statue was already a celebrity as a work of many iterations:33 different marbles issued by Powers’s studio, photographs, statuettes, engravings, and tableaux vivants, all somehow related to that plaster model Grant had seen in Powers’s studio in Florence when he first commissioned the marble, a story much recounted in the press.34 The fame of the statue, created and amplified by exhibitions and reproductions, was in turn boosting the currency of new reproductive media appearing on the market.

As well as using an old medium to advertise the new, displays of photographs of sculptures resonated with how photography was being considered at the time in comparison with another new development, that of sculpting machines. As early as 1839, the Literary Gazette compared ‘photogenic copying’ using Daguerre’s method, to a machine to make prints from medallion busts, designed by Achilles Collas,35 describing the latter’s ‘method of copying busts, statues, or other solid objects, with mathematical precision […] as remarkable a discovery as the photogenic’.36 In 1843, in the Edinburgh Review, David Brewster compared photography to machines to copy busts and statuettes in three dimensions — James Watt’s reducing machines37 and electroplating38 — as ‘new engines of the fine arts […] inventions and discoveries [that] abridge or supersede labour’ by allowing an original or prototype to guide the process by direct physical connection rather than through the agency of human eyes and hands.39 In London, machine carvings, electrotypes, daguerreotypes, and Talbotypes were seen and compared at the events organized by the Royal Society throughout the 1840s and 1850s, where Benjamin Cheverton’s ivories, ‘mechanically sculptured’ using his reducing machine, a perfected version of Watt’s prototypes, could be admired next to displays of ‘excellent […] Talbotypes’, or ‘M. Claudet’s photographic specimen’.40 In these sculpting machines the process is guided by a pointer touching the original, connected via pantographic arms to another pointer, armed with a cutting tool to carve the copy. In Watt’s and Cheverton’s machines, original and copy are clamped to plates connected by geared arrangements that keep them in the right spatial relationship as they rotate to carve new portions of the copy, layer by layer. This enables the manufacture of exact copies in different sizes but correct proportions.41 The soirée in February 1847, where again photographs and a reduction in ivory of Chantrey’s bust of Queen Victoria by Cheverton were on show, attracted large audiences.42 At the end of the same year, Robert Hunt started a long-running series in the pages of the Art-Union on ‘The Application of Science to the Fine and Useful Arts’, which included articles on ‘The Electrotype’, ‘Photography’, and ‘Carving by Machinery’.43 In them, Hunt underlined the difference between engravings, in which the work of the original artist was mediated by hands endowed with — or lacking — artistic flair of their own, and statuettes or photographs made by machines controlled by operators who needed no art to use them.44

The Illustrated London News made a similar point about photography in 1843 by publishing a print from Richard Beard’s daguerreotype studio, based on a photograph (Fig. 3), accompanied by a commentary in verse by Elizabeth Sheridan Carey:

Wondrous it is! Form, face, and air,
Dress, attitude, are pictured there!
Nay, pictured not — why prate of Art
Where nature, only, play the part?
No gifted touch could this excel
No pencil breathe so sweet a spell!45
Fig. 3 

Richard Beard, ‘Jabez Hogg and Mr Johnson’, 1843, daguerreotype. © National Media Museum / Science & Society Picture Library. All rights reserved.

The photographer is timing the operation with watch and lens cap, demonstrating the ‘hands off’ operation that allows nature’s touch to make the image; at work in his jacket, he is a professional rather than a manual worker or an artist. Mayall’s daguerreotype of Greek Slave would have been understood as equally respectful of the sculptor’s work, allowing it to picture itself on a photographic plate that would provide an image with none of the defects that could affect prints. The Morning Post, for example, criticized the Art-Journal print of Greek Slave as too ‘tall and lanky’, ‘altogether out’, and a disservice to the original.46

The kinship between photography and casts or copies using Cheverton’s machine is made visible in the many photographs of statues, casts, and statuettes taken by early photographers.47 Talbot, who had been in competition with Daguerre to first claim the invention of a method to fix on a light-sensitive surface the image formed by a camera obscura, seems to have been keen to prove his system specifically by photographing statues.48 After he heard from John Herschel (who had identified the chemical to wash unexposed silver from the light-sensitive plate after exposure — the fixer) in Paris in May 1839:

I cannot resist writing to you to say that I have this moment left Daguerre’s who […] shew [sic] us all his Pictures on Silver […]. It is hardly saying too much to call them miraculous […]. Sculptures are rendered in their most minute details with a beauty quite inconceivable.49

Talbot responded by sending Herschel his own photographs of ‘a bust of Patroclus on a table’ and ‘Patroclus & Venus […] from plaster casts’.50 Talbot was aware that the advantage of his method over Daguerre’s was that it was capable of generating potentially infinite numbers of prints from the same negative. The photographic image, ‘formed or depicted by optical and chemical means alone, and without the aid of any one acquainted with the art of drawing’, is doubled into the positive — a trace of a trace, which can be infinitely repeated: ‘The number of copies which can be taken from a single original photographic picture, appears to be almost unlimited.’51 Talbot is foregrounding ‘a discourse of the original and the copy’, in which the ‘original’ is not only the object photographed, but also the negative, an interim stage of the photographic process, used by the photographer not for show or for sale but to produce unlimited copies that retain a collective identity as the same photograph, even when their material qualities vary.52

In the nineteenth century, this ‘discourse of the original and the copy’ was shared by sculpture, whose ‘original plaster model’, pockmarked by reference points used to transfer it to marble (Fig. 4), scarred by reworkings and modifications, was the not-for-show, working matrix used to make the ‘original’ exhibition plasters, marbles, or bronzes issuing from a sculptor’s studio. In many cases, it was itself reproduced from an original small maquette, on which the sculptor had first worked the figure, often destroyed during the process of scaling it up to full size and then making a mould. This work was done by skilled assistants, trainee sculptors, or freelance subcontractors, who were also used to transfer the original plaster model in marble, helped by a variety of mechanical devices — frameworks of plumb lines and drills, graduated callipers, and pointing or sculpting machines.53 The sculptor would supervise the process according to preferred working practices and the availability of skilled labour. One of the reasons for the concentration of studios in Italy was the availability of modellers and carvers who had trained in workshops making copies from the antique.

Fig. 4 

Hiram Powers, ‘Model of the Greek Slave’, 1843, plaster, metal points. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Available in 3-D at <http://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/archive/2015/powers/> [accessed 1 April 2016].

The sculptor was supposed to add finishing touches that would transfer the genius of the first creation to the final marble surface, a practice many reviews of Greek Slave highlighted. Powers was also known for working directly on full-size plaster models, which he built over metal rods, with tools of his own design, working section by section.54 This allowed him to vary the details of Greek Slave slightly for each new commission — the folds of the drapes, the fringe of the shawl, or the type of fastening used between the wrists (Fig. 5). This creative touch, mythologized in representations of the sculptor, chisel in hand with his statues, was what distinguished artists from the skilled labourers in the sculpture business whose work was manual and mechanical rather than creative.55 At the same time, a legal framework, rather than the artist’s tactile involvement with the piece, vouchsafed attribution to the named sculptor.56 As Tim Armstrong has also argued, to define a statue as ‘by Powers’ involves disregarding the studio workers who had actually made it, a transaction of labour he compares to slavery.57 This is also true of the attribution of statuettes to Minton, made by workers who remained equally anonymous, alienated from the products of their labour, and disavowed by commodity fetishism. As Steve Edwards has demonstrated, this was also the case with photographs circulating as ‘by’ Richard Beard, the owner of the licensing agreement under which daguerreotypists operated in England, even when they had been taken by others, as patenting laws rather than current notions of the author defined who a photograph was by.58 This comparison between the making of photographs and the making of sculpture, media that used mechanical work, whether by hands or by machines, suggests that, more than a sign of taste, or the aspiration to break into the market for art reproductions, sculptures featured regularly in early photographs as a way to figure the new medium.

Fig. 5 

Detail from Fig. 9, ‘1032 — Hiram Powers Greek Slave’, undated (after 1869), collodion negative on albumen paper, showing a later variant of Greek Slave. Author’s collection.

The Greek Slave, Parian ware statuettes, Cheverton’s machine, and photography were all exhibited to great critical and public acclaim at the Great Exhibition of 1851, the ‘International Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations’ in Hyde Park.59 Hiram Powers’s statue quickly became one of the exhibits to see, as a variety of engravings, lithographs, and statuettes of the Greek Slave could soon be seen all over Britain and beyond. Minton won prizes for their statuettes, Greek Slave included; Benjamin Cheverton exhibited busts and reductions carved on-site using his machine; and photography was declared by the juries to be ‘the most remarkable discovery of modern times’.60 Outside the ‘Crystal Palace’, Joseph Paxton’s glass building for the exhibition, everyone could buy a Greek Slave: from Lord Ward who exhibited his marble at the Egyptian Hall in London while the Great Exhibition was still on;61 to the middle classes who started buying so much Parian, now advertised as ‘Works of Art at The Great Exhibition’, that Minton struggled to meet demand, and Punch later joked that ‘six copies of […] the Greek Slave’ would be ‘rather too much for two drawing-rooms (couldn’t you send up a pair to the best bed-room, and one to the butler’s pantry?)’;62 to those who could only cut out a print from the special supplement of the Illustrated London News, or buy it as a sweet from a confectioners in Tottenham Court Road, ‘nicely executed in […] barley-sugar’.63

The commercial success of statuettes meant increasing competition, some from pirated copies of existing statuettes. So much so that when Copeland launched its own Greek Slave in 1852, they exhibited on their premises on Bond Street a full-size plaster cast of the marble,64 and advertised that the forthcoming statuettes would be reduced from it ‘by means of Mr. Cheverton’s instrument, in order to form the original for a series of statuettes’ that would be ‘more desirable, as inferior copies of this beautiful statue have of late been multiplied to a fearful extent’.65

Photography, which had been assessed by Brewster as the most promising of the new ‘engines of the fine arts’ because it could energize its progress by replacing the mindless human labour involved in making copies — from nature or from works of art — with faster, cheaper, and more accurate copies powered by the sun, was at this point lagging behind electroplating and statuettes in terms of mass production. Daguerreotypes were sharp and detailed, but also expensive one-offs that could not be multiplied directly; Talbotypes, capable of producing infinite positives, were not as sharp and detailed, and prone to fading, as became apparent when, for example, the Art-Union issued a special number with a photograph by Talbot pasted in every magazine.66

Photographically illustrated accounts of the Great Exhibition faced the same lack of choice. John Tallis, in Tallis’s History and Description of the Crystal Palace, and the Exhibition of the World’s Industry in 1851, Illustrated by Beautiful Steel Engravings from Original Drawings and Daguerreotypes by Beard, Mayall &c. (1852) used daguerreotypes, many taken by Mayall, whose photographs of sculptures had been in the exhibition, as the basis for engravings of statues, three-dimensional objects, and views of the interior (Fig. 6). At £11 6s., it was pricier than catalogues illustrated with wood engravings, but the plates were beautifully detailed and suitable as free-standing images. It was more widely circulated than the pioneering four-volume special edition of the Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, 1851: Reports by the Juries (1852) one of the first photographically illustrated catalogues (Fig. 7). The 140 sets, illustrated with 155 photographic prints, were a gift to important supporters of the Great Exhibition from Her Majesty’s Commissioners. As Nancy Keeler has demonstrated in her detailed study of the case, the commissioners instructed a number of photographers, including Hugh Owen, Robert Bingham, and Claude-Marie Ferrier, to produce negatives, but then found it hard to find a contractor that could fulfil the order of 21,700 prints, and baulked at the costs especially when they realized they would also have to pay Talbot, who still held a patent on the negative–positive process, to have them made legally. At one point it was agreed that the contract should go to Nicolaas Henneman, who had been Talbot’s printer on various photography publishing ventures. His prints, however, proved unsatisfactory, and faded. As Henry Cole wrote to Talbot, ‘at no price whatever would it be worthwhile having Mr. Henneman’s Printing. They are too dark, not at all artistic, and already show serious defects’ (Keeler, p. 264). The job in the end went to a firm operating in the south of France, in breach of Talbot’s patent.67

Fig. 6 

‘Hiram Powers, Sculptor, The Greek Slave, Daguerreotyped by Mayall’, 1851, steel engraving from a drawing from a daguerreotype, unpaginated plate in Tallis’s History and Description of the Crystal Palace, and the Exhibition of the World’s Industry in 1851, Illustrated by Beautiful Steel Engravings from Original Drawings and Daguerreotypes by Beard, Mayall &c. (London: Tallis, 1852). © The British Library Board, 7955.e.11.

Fig. 7 

Hugh Owen, ‘Greek Slave, (Marble), Powers’, 1851, salted paper print from paper negative, also unpaginated plate in Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, 1851: Reports by the Juries (London: Spicer, 1852). Purchase, Emanuel Gerard Gift, 1982. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <http://www.metmuseum.org/>.

The issue was finally solved by the development and improvement of albumen papers, and of a new method of making glass negatives using collodion, first worked out in 1851 by a sculptor, Frederick Scott Archer.68 In a short time, ‘wet plates’, as they became known when Archer declined to patent them, printed on albumen paper, pushed Talbotypes and daguerreotypes to commercial obsolescence, and allowed photography to begin to flourish as a means to obtain large numbers of the same image.69 The first photographic ‘craze’ — enough supply and demand for fortunes to be made — was for stereoscopic cards, many of statuary, including Greek Slave (Fig. 8).

Fig. 8 

Anonymous, stereoscopic card of Greek Slave by Hiram Powers, undated, collodion negatives on albumen paper. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, E 1562–1992.

Designed by Charles Wheatstone in 1838 to prove theories of binocular vision, the stereoscope was improved by David Brewster, adapted for photography, and was one of the successes at the 1851 Great Exhibition. It went on to become a must-have home entertainment for every household from the middle classes up, all over Europe and America. The London Stereoscopic Company, for example, founded in 1856, was a rapid commercial success. Within two years it had an international network of distributors, several staff photographers, and had sold over five hundred thousand stereoscopes in a variety of materials and prices — from mahogany to cardboard — appealing to the aristocracy yet affordable for the middle classes.70 The real profit, however, came from the sales of millions of stereo cards, retailing at around one shilling in 1862. In the US the medium was given a boost when Oliver Wendell Holmes designed an improved, ‘American’ stereoscope. Often published in sets, cards were available in a variety of genres to suit different interests. Landscapes and famous sites were a popular subject, but so were pornography, narrative vignettes, and sculptures. A stereo of the Greek Slave (Fig. 9) could cover them all: souvenir of an exhibition visited, or missed; reproduction of a famous sculpture, bought during a holiday; impersonation of a well-known story or contested issues; and even decoy for pornography — in 1877 the Times reported on the seizure of a stock of pornographic images sold at the back of a stall in the City Road that displayed photographs of the Greek Slave to entice customers.71

Fig. 9 

‘C. Bierstadt Publishers, Niagara Falls, N.Y.’, ‘1032 — Hiram Powers Greek Slave’, undated (after 1869), stereoscopic card (collodion negatives on albumen paper), ‘Sold only by Underwood & Underwood: Liverpool; New York; Toronto; Ottawa, Kas; El Paso, Tex.’ Stamped at the back ‘Matilda Brezee’. Author’s collection.

In writings on the stereoscope, earlier modes of thinking about photography in relation to sculpture became more explicit and literal. Brewster enthused that stereoscopic photographs would allow any sculptor to ‘carry in his portfolio […] all the statuary and sculpture which adorn the galleries and museums of civilised nations’.72 Holmes imagined a universal stereoscopic library that would make the corresponding three-dimensional objects obsolescent. For both writers, the stereoscopic experience retained the three-dimensionality of form, yet separated it from its cumbersome materiality. As Holmes wrote, in stereoscopy ‘form is […] divorced from matter’. Instead of the body of the viewer inhabiting the same space as a statue on display, it is ‘the mind [that] feels round it and gets an idea of its solidity [so that] form make[s] itself seen through the world of intelligence’.73 The viewer is transported into a stereoscopic experience that takes place inside the mind and turns him or her into nothing but ‘hungry eyes’.74 This visual voracity, however, has to be fed by tactile interaction with the apparatus. Unlike ordinary prints, stereoscopic images cannot be taken in at a glance; picking up the viewer and loading each slide requires more deliberate gestures than leafing through a book; the apparatus and the viewer’s eyesight have to be adjusted before the stereo effect works; it is only once this happens that the details in the image, no longer miniaturized, reward leisurely perusal. The visual sensation is peculiar. Vision is more than isolated from surrounding space by the frame of the stereoscope: the eyes feel as if they are leaving the head, on tentacles like snails, and moving in the space of the photograph, so that, as Holmes described, we can ‘clasp an object with our eyes, as with our arms, or with our hands’ (p. 142).

The success of stereoscopic photography as reproduction of statuary peaked after the 1862 ‘International Exhibition of the Industrial Arts and Manufacture and the Fine Arts of All Nations’, one of the largest exhibitions of nineteenth-century sculpture, and the first to be comprehensively photographed for commercial as well as documentary reasons by the London Stereoscopic Company.75 The inclusion of paintings in the exhibition, in a section dedicated to the fine arts, galvanized debate on the status of photography as a fine or mechanical art;76 and the nature of the work in making sculptures became a public debate when Harriet Hosmer, another American sculptor working in Rome, was accused of not having made Zenobia, the statue of an African queen she exhibited in 1862, compelling the artist to issue a letter describing the inner workings of a sculpture studio.77 Powers’s contributions, Proserpine and California, didn’t achieve the celebrity of Greek Slave, and appear not to have been photographed by the Stereoscopic Company, perhaps because he refused permission.78 In any case, the sculptural ‘celebrities’ of 1862 were John Gibson’s ‘tinted’ Venus (Fig. 10), Raffaelle Monti’s Sleep of Sorrow and the Dream of Joy, and Pietro Magni’s Reading Girl, which became so popular that in August almost thirty thousand stereos of it were reported to be selling per week.79 The Stereoscopic Company eventually bought Reading Girl and Sleep of Sorrow, to secure their exclusive rights to photograph them, and display them in their shop windows to stimulate the sale of stereoscopic cards, much as Graves had done with Greek Slave and engravings.80

Fig. 10 

London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company, ‘The International Exhibition of 1862. No. 55. — Tinted Venus, by Gibson, R.A. (3)’, stereoscopic card (collodion negatives on albumen paper prints). Author’s collection.

In the press, the stereoscopic photographs of the 1862 exhibition received very positive reviews, as allowing a more contemplative experience, unsullied by the sensual overload of the exhibition, widely declared to be too distracting, crowded, hot, noisy, and smelly.81 More three-dimensional and faithful to the original than prints, cheaper and more widely available than statuettes, stereoscopic photographs allowed anyone of even modest means to become a serial collector, as the smallest interior could house a virtual sculpture gallery, allowing a closer encounter with the objects than three-dimensional viewing conditions would normally allow, even in a domestic interior.

Their superiority to statuettes and prints is spelled out in the caption to the back of the anonymous stereoscopic card of Greek Slave in Fig. 8:

This Exquisite Statue bore off the Great Council Medal, for Sculpture, of the Great Exhibition held in London, in 1851. Copies, many of them of a most inferior character, have been presented to the world in Plaster, Parian and Lithograph, some of them bearing little or no resemblance to the great original. The present Stereoscopic Photograph has been taken by the special and kind permission of captain JAMES [sic] GRANT, who was the original purchaser, and is the present possessor of this noble work.

Stereoscopic photography is presented here as closer to the original than any other copy, and the name of the owner suggests that this was taken from the ‘original’ marble and not from a cast or statuette, which, of course, it might have been — Grant’s first name is wrong. The limitations of the stereoscopic photograph as a sculpture — single fixed view, limited three-dimensionality — are compensated by other visual plenitudes, each stereo embodying the condition of sculpture and of photography as media of multiple iterations in its triptych of slightly different images: two on the card, one in the stereoscope.

The anonymous stereoscopic photograph of a Greek Slave statuette in Fig. 11, is, on one level, the last and the poorest in a chain of representations — why bother, when a stereoscopic card of a full-size version would cost the same to print? It is, however, the result of a complex series of reproductive processes, using sculpting machines, moulds and casts, and then lenses, negative plates, and positive prints. The statuette, supposedly a reduction from an ‘original’ full-length statue, is further reduced by the camera from three dimensions into two, and swells again to three when the card is viewed through the stereoscope. The latter emphasizes distances between planes, especially when viewing photographs taken at close distances. Seen through the stereoscope, a statuette seems to protrude further towards the viewer than it does looking at the flat photographs or at an actual statuette. The invisibility to the camera of the space between Greek Slave’s chains and her pelvis creates a vagueness or gap in the 3-D effect, creating a more pronounced suggestion of the space behind the hands. Looking through the stereoscope, it is easier to fantasize slipping one’s fingers behind the chain, and pulling the slave to freedom, or to the consummation of the sale. And yet the illusion of mastery that might be generated by the miniaturization of the sculpture in the photograph, and emphasized by the naked woman in chains, is undermined.82 As we look through the stereoscope, we become at once large, looming outside the stereoscope, and small inside it, as our eyes share with the sculpture a space which is collaboratively created by our perceptual apparatus, by the stereoscope, and by the object which had to be there for the photographs to be taken, and for the stereoscopic effect to work. The image harnesses and resonates with the cultural and mechanical polyphony of Greek Slave, adding a layer of its own. Powers’s marbles are ‘originals’ by him, disregarding the sculptural process and the role played by studio workers, mechanical hands whose touch is cleansed by the final one of the artist. Statuettes are accurately measured reductions from originals, directly ‘after’ them. And stereoscopic photographs, ‘Sun sculptures’, are conceptualized as mechanical reproductions that don’t interfere with the subject photographed, thus disregarding the work of the photographer. This interplay between physical and conceptual processes — ‘observing seeing while at the same time being complicit in making the seen’83 — is as interactive as handling actual statuettes, and might be at the heart of the popularity of stereoscopic photographs of statuettes (Fig. 12). After Parian ware made statuettes ubiquitous, and before panchromatic films made possible a correct enough reproduction of paintings, these were the images through which photography first became the medium associated with ‘the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction’.

Fig. 11 

Anonymous, ‘The Greek Slave’, undated, stereoscopic card (collodion negatives on albumen paper prints). Author’s collection.

Fig. 12 

Anonymous, untitled, undated, stereoscopic card (collodion negatives on albumen paper prints). Author’s collection.