Hiram Powers (d. 1873) left his native America in 1837 and settled in Florence, where he remained for the rest of his life and established a reputation for his fine 'ideal' work. Proserpine was Powers' second attempt at modelling an 'ideal' bust created from his imagination and was originally intended to be a companion piece for the the first bust, entitled Ginevra, executed in 1838, shortly after the sculptor's arrival in Florence. In December 1840, the Philadelphia publisher and art collector, Edward L. Carey, approached Powers, wishing to commission an original work. However, it was not until April 1843 that work commenced on what was to become the first version of Proserpine (now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art). Depicting the daughter of the earth-mother, Ceres, the bust showed Proserpine truncated below her breasts and in the middle of her upper arms. Her body rose from a shaped basket overflowing with tube-roses and narcissi, the foot of the basket formed as the socle of the bust. Due to the intricacies involved in carving the details of the flowers and 'wicker' basket, the bust was not finished until October 1844. Presumably due to inclement weather, its shipment was delayed until the following Spring and it did not finally arrive in Philadelphia until 16 June, sadly the very day that Carey died, without ever seeing it.
Having originally intended to replicate the Proserpine executed for Carey, Powers now realised that carving the bust in its present form would be too laborious and prove uneconomical for his atelier. Consequently, between 1844 and 1849, two further versions of the subject were designed. The present bust is an example of the second version, which although a simplified interpretation of the original, showing Proserpine rising from a bed of acanthus leaves rather than a basket, is still an example of intricate carving. Such was the popularity of the work and the tremendous demand for replicas, which in their present form could not be fabricated fast enough, that Powers again reworked the model in 1849, eliminating the basket altogether and substituting the acanthus with a shaped beaded border.
Other examples of the present verion of Proserpine were sold in these rooms 17 March, 1994, lot 237 (with associated socle) and 21 May, 1992, lot 41.