Choosing of the Arrow

Artist: Henry Kirke Brown (American, Leyden, Massachusetts 1814–1886 Newburgh, New York)

Date: 1849

Geography: Made in United States

Medium: Bronze

Dimensions: 22 x 11 3/8 x 5 5/8 in. (55.9 x 28.9 x 14.3 cm)

Classification: Sculpture

Credit Line: Purchase, Mia R. Taradash and Dorothy Schwartz Gifts, and Morris K. Jesup and Rogers Funds, 2005

Accession Number: 2005.405


In 1848, the American Art-Union, a New York–based art lottery organization, commissioned Brown to produce twenty casts of Choosing of the Arrow for its annual distribution. The Art-Union commission stipulated a statuette "illustrative of Indian form and character," and Brown represented a male nude reaching with his right hand to draw an arrow from a quiver strapped on his back. Brown was among the first sculptors to study Native American physiognomy, dress, and customs first-hand. In 1848, he traveled to Mackinac Island on Lake Huron, where he spent time among the Indians gathered at a trading post. Choosing of the Arrow grew out of drawn and sculpted sketches that Brown completed during and after his trip. The subject demonstrates the growing interest in American themes and the realistic treatment of form, exemplified in the subtle handling of the rib cage, back musculature, and ornamental hair knot. The exacting attention to anatomy and texture, as well as careful finishing of the bronze, signals a transition to the vital naturalism characteristic of late nineteenth-century American sculpture.