The Dying Tecumseh

Copied Ferdinand Pettrich, The Dying Tecumseh, modeled ca. 1837-1846, carved 1856, marble with painted copper alloy tomahawk, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Capitol, 1916.8.1
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Artwork Details

Title
The Dying Tecumseh
Date
modeled ca. 1837-1846, carved 1856
Dimensions
36 5877 5853 34 in. (93.1197.2136.6 cm.)
Credit Line
Transfer from the U.S. Capitol
Mediums
Mediums Description
marble with painted copper alloy tomahawk
Classifications
Keywords
  • Indian
  • State of being — death
  • Figure male — full length
  • Portrait male — Tecumseh
Object Number
1916.8.1
Research Notes

Artwork Description

Tecumseh (Shawnee, 1768--1813) was a vital figure in the Native American resistance to U.S. expansionism after the Revolution. A warrior chief from the Ohio Valley, he worked to build a coalition of Indigenous nations that would block white settlers from encroaching further west. In the War of 1812 (1812--15), Tecumseh strategically allied his forces with the British but was killed by U.S. troops in the Battle of the Thames. The future president William Henry Harrison, who led that pivotal battle, recognized the formidable challenge Tecumseh's coalition would have posed to the United States, calling him, "one of those uncommon geniuses, which spring up occasionally to produce revolutions."
This sculpture emulates the ancient Roman sculpture the Dying Gaul, which similarly portrays a military adversary as heroic, yet exotic and powerless. A fictive portrait, it mythologizes Tecumseh as a timeless "noble savage," dangerously and erroneously suggesting that his death and the rapacious expansion of the United States were inevitable. The work stood in the U.S. Capitol from 1864 to 1878, a time when Congressional legislation profoundly impacted Indigenous sovereignties.

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