Update: The 22-inch high Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronze, Appeal to the Great Spirit, sold for $100,312.
What you see: A 22-inch-high version of Appeal to the Great Spirit, a Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronze. Bonhams estimates it at $50,000 to $70,000.
The expert: Katherine Halligan, Western art specialist at Bonhams.
Who was Cyrus Edwin Dallin? He was a late 19th century and early 20th century artist born in Springville, Utah Territory. That’s important because he’s one of the first American artists to recognize the rights of Native Americans. He didn’t just focus on Native American subjects. It constitutes some of his most iconic work.
Where did he train? His earliest training–he had friendly relations with the Ute Indians, and as a child, he made rudimentary animal models from the clay at their clay beds. Later, he went to Boston to study with Truman Howe Bartlett, and in Paris with Henri Chapu.
What drew him to Native American subjects? Where did that come from? Certainly, from his childhood. He grew up in a Latter-day Saints (LDS) settlement in a very small town and was exposed culturally to the local Indians. It informed his decision to depict Native American subjects and fight for the rights of Native Americans. Because of his firsthand experiences, he had a sense of ownership in protecting Native American cultures and depicting them as best he could in his work.
Cyrus Edwin Dallin was progressive for his time, but would his views on Native Americans be considered progressive by contemporary standards? That’s a tough thing to answer, because he was of his time. I think his values and his political activism was very forward-thinking in many ways, so forward-thinking that it could meet the standards of social justice today. [The website for the Cyrus Edwin Dallin museum includes many statements and initiatives that support social justice.] He was politically active and formed a group that [after merging with similar groups] became the Association on American Indian Affairs.
How did he conceive the idea behind Appeal to the Great Spirit? I don’t know of any first-hand writings that explain his ideas. It was the fourth sculpture in his The Epic of the Indian cycle, a series of monumental-size works on equestrian subjects. It’s a very bold presentation that reflects his own growing confidence as an artist.
Did he come up with the idea in Paris? He was studying in Paris in 1889, and Buffalo Bill came to the city–
Oh, I’m guessing Buffalo Bill’s show didn’t sit well with Cyrus Edwin Dallin. Interestingly, no–you’ve got to keep it in the context of the time. Dallin went multiple times during its run and befriended the Native American actors and sketched them. The sketches became the basis for the models in The Epic of the Indian.
Did he rely on photographs at all? I haven’t read that he used photographs, but it was a very typical practice of his contemporaries.
What makes Appeal to the Great Spirit such an effective sculpture? From an artistic perspective, it’s very powerful. It’s the last story in The Epic of the Indian cycle. What it represents is the recognition–he’s realizing his way of life has been lost due to the imposition of white culture. We relate to the vulnerability of the figure, with his hands out and his head thrown back. It’s universal. Its supercharged emotions make it different from the other three in the cycle.
In looking at the backing material for Appeal to the Great Spirit, I don’t see any information that identifies the tribal community to which the male figure belongs. Did I miss it, or did Cyrus Edwin Dallin deliberately make it vague? I think this figure is a Sioux chief. I think the identity is in the [style of] headdress. Some artists were intentionally or unintentionally inaccurate with the details of Native American clothing. Dallin’s intention was to be accurate. He had a tremendous amount of respect for the different communities.
He’s not the sort of guy who would switch in the headdress of a different tribal community because to him, it looked better than a Sioux chief’s headdress. His approach was much more respectful, with the intent of authenticity.
This Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronze is a reduced-size version of Appeal to the Great Spirit. What challenges did he face in sizing the work down to 22 inches? The main consideration would be to get the fine details right. The Gorham foundries were very skilled in the lost wax process. This has exceptionally fine detail.
I understand there are 107 examples of this Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronze. Do we know how long–over what span of years–it was produced? I don’t know the answer to this, and I don’t know how many survive. I do know the number that have been at auction is hardly 107.
Was the Gorham bronze foundry connected to the Gorham silver company? Yes, it is. Gorham was really one of the top American foundries of that period. The most significant American sculptors used them.
Elsewhere in the auction you offer an 8 3/4 inch version of Appeal to the Great Spirit. How many different sizes were offered? The 22-inch version is the middle size. There’s a third, larger size as well. It was a one-foot, two-foot, three-foot kind of thing. I believe the largest size was a significantly smaller edition. There are up to 280 of the smallest edition.
Also in the sale is a 14 1/2 inch high Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronze of The Signal of Peace. Taking all three lots together, I see a jumble of sizes. Is it possible to collect a group of four reduced-size bronzes of the works in The Epic of the Indian that match in size? I don’t know for sure, but I believe you should be able to, with the smallest size. The measurement on The Signal of Peace includes the figure’s spear, which adds four or five inches.
Is the Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronze solid or hollow? It’s more solid than hollow. It’s hefty.
Were all 107 of the 22-inch Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronzes cast during his lifetime, or were some posthumous? I don’t know for sure, but I would imagine they’re all lifetime casts.
This example is number 12 in the edition of 107. Does that matter? Is it more desirable to collectors because of its lower number? Savvier collectors like the lower numbers because the details are crisper.
What is the Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronze like in person? What aspects elude the camera? Certainly I would say the detail–the face and hands, the horse’s face, the headdress are incredibly crisp and detailed. In the smaller version and in later versions, the fingers tend to be less crisp, but these are beautifully rendered. And the presence–it’s been cleaned and re-waxed and it absolutely glows. It’s got a rich golden brown color.
Do all 107 have that same general patina of a rich golden brown, or are there variants? I’ve never seen something else. They’re all in a medium brown.
What condition is the Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronze in? It’s really in amazing condition. The reins were recreated and replaced, but it was in the same family for four generations, and they left it alone.
I take it that it’s common to have the reins replaced on a reduced-size Appeal to the Great Spirit? Yes it is. They’re removable, and frequently, they’re kinked or bent. The reins are an add-on, and they usually don’t last. There are small holes in the sculpture where the reins attach.
How often does the 22-inch Cyrus Edwin Dallin bronze appear at auction? There have been five at auction since 2015. They’re not always identified by edition number, but I assume none were the same ones reappearing at auction over the last six years. Speaking about the edition, it’s rare to have an example with such a low number.
What’s the world auction record for a 22-inch bronze of Appeal to the Great Spirit? It sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2005 for $120,000.
Why will this piece stick in your memory? This particular bronze is one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of working with. And it has good auction karma. It’s been in a nice family, and they’ve been wonderful to work with. This is my first Bonhams sale, and it will be an unforgettable one.
Images are courtesy of Bonhams.
Cyrus Edwin Dallin has a namesake museum in Arlington, Massachusetts.
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