The Indian: The Dying Chief Contemplating the Progress of Civilization

Object Number: 
White marble and wood
Overall: 60 x 55 1/2 x 28 in. ( 152.4 x 141 x 71.1 cm )
signed: PL back of seat: "CRAWFORD/FECIT/ROME 1856" inscribed: PR end of sub-base: "PRESENTED BY/FREDERICK DE PEYSTER, PRESIDENT OF THE SOCIETY, 1875" brass plaque: front of wood pedestal: "THE INDIAN/ THE DYING CHIEF CONTEMPLATING THE/PROGRESS OF CI
Indian chief figure seated on low mound, a nude figure, head crowned with tufted feathers rests upon his right hand.
Gallery Label: 
Thomas Crawford was born in New York and apprenticed there with the sculptors John Frazee (1790-1852) and Robert Launitz (1806-1870). He moved to Rome in 1835 where he trained with the Danish-born sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844), Antonio Canova's (1757-1822) successor as the preeminent neoclassical sculptor of the age. Such was Crawford's skill that he soon came to be considered Thorvaldsen's heir. "The Indian" is a later remodeling in the round of Crawford's figure for the pediment frieze of the Senate wing of the U.S. Capital, a commission he worked on from 1853 to 1855. The artist gave particular attention to this figure, which is the only representation of a classical nude in the pediment. Crawford's vision of the government's program for the frieze, the triumph of civilization over the savage state, was somewhat sympathetic to American Indians. His noble representation of pathos has distinct similarities to the second century "Dying Gaul" (formerly Dying Gladiator) in the Capitoline Museum in Rome, with which Crawford would have been familiar. At Crawford's death, the great English sculptor John Gibson (1790-1866) singled out "The Indian" among the works remaining in the artist's Rome studio as the best suited to be "placed in some fine public hall," "there to stand as a monument to the author, an American sculptor of great genius." The artist's widow, Louisa Ward Crawford Terry (1823-1897), sister of the abolitionist poet Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910), sent "The Indian" to New York in 1861. The critic Henry T. Tuckerman (1813-1871) noted that the Civil War was an "unfortunate" time to sell artwork; acting on Mrs. Terry's behalf, he deposited "The Indian" at the New-York Historical Society. In 1875, Frederic de Peyster, the Society's president (1864-1866; 1873-1882), purchased "The Indian" for the substantial sum of $4,000. The work remained in the vestible of the Society's Second Avenue home, until the Society moved to Central Park West in 1908. There, "The Indian" was placed opposite the main door to the auditorium, an area of prominence to which it now returns.
Ramirez, Jan Seidler. "A History of the New-York Historical Society." The Magazine Antiques 167 (2005): 138-145.
Credit Line: 
Gift of Mr. Frederic De Peyster
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group