An outstanding American neoclassical work by the renowned 19th century sculptor Edmonia Lewis has been acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art
. The multi-figured Indian Combat ranks among the most ambitious of all free-standing American neoclassical sculptures. Born circa 1842 of African American and Native American (Objibwa) descent, Edmonia Lewis holds the distinction of being the first non-white American sculptor to achieve acclaim internationally. Indian Combat had been in the private collection of a Massachusetts family since the 1950s, and remained unknown to the art world until it surfaced late last year. The acquisition enhances the museums distinguished American art holdings and demonstrates the museums dedication to add works that strengthen its historic commitment to artistic excellence.
Edmonia Lewiss Indian Combat is a remarkable discovery. Its acquisition builds on the museums commitment to collect works of art that are both seminal to the careers of individual artists and also significant benchmarks in the history of art, said C. Griffith Mann, the museums deputy director and chief curator.
Indian Combat depicts three Native American men engaged in spiritedyet graceful and balleticcombat with each other. Very few examples of neoclassical sculpture feature more than two figures, and virtually no other work exhibits such a complex integration of multiple protagonists. Conceived fully in the round, Indian Combats dynamic composition encourages the viewer to circumnavigate the piece in order to discover the details of the action. Having carved the marble herselfwithout the use of assistants that was the custom at the timeLewis rendered a wide variety of complex textures, which can be seen in the moccasins, animal hides and loin cloths worn by the figures.
Lewis specialized in Native American themes, which were widely popular in 19th century American art and literature. Her most common subjects were inspired by The Song of Hiawatha, the epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who was her acquaintance. By contrast, Indian Combat seems to be entirely a product of the sculptors own imagination.
Mark Cole, PhD, Cleveland Museum of Art associate curator of American painting and sculpture, has studied Edmonia Lewiss work since the early 1990s. When I first saw Indian Combat, I recognized it immediately as a masterpiece, and truly Lewiss tour de force, he stated. Its a defining work by an artist who led such a fascinating and remarkable life.
Lewis spent the bulk of her career in Rome during the mid-19th century and earned great renown for her marble carvings. She studied at Ohios Oberlin College one of the first institutions of higher learning in the United States to admit women, as well as persons of colorfrom 1859-1863, and subsequently apprenticed in Boston before relocating to Italy in 1866. Her studio became an important destination for wealthy Americans and Europeans on their Grand Tours, several of whom became patrons. Highly sought-after in the marketplace, Edmonia Lewiss works are in private and public collections in a number of countries, including the United States, England, Scotland and Germany.