Hermon Atkins MacNeil (American, 18661947)
Bronze; 72 x 32 1/2 x 54 in. (182.9 x 82.6 x 137.2 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1919 (19.126)
In 1899, MacNeil completed The Sun Vow in fulfillment of a requirement of the four-year Rinehart Scholarship at the American Academy in Rome. His choice of subject matter, partly the result of a trip made to the American West in 1895, probably owed more to what he expressed as "considerable interest in our primitive American peoples," which had occupied him from his years working as a sculptor in Chicago. Thoroughly disciplined by his earlier French Beaux-Arts training, MacNeil approached his subject in a realistic manner. During his visits to several Native American tribes, he heard of a rite of passage that captured his imagination: before a boy on the threshold of manhood could be accepted as a warrior of his tribe, he must shoot an arrow directly into the sun. If the chieftain judging the boy's prowess was so blinded by the sun's rays that he could not follow the flight of the arrow, it was said to have gone "out of sight," and the youth had passed the test. MacNeil felt that the story, with its "patriotic ring," lent itself to a group composition. In this bronze work, he portrayed two Native Americans (whom he identified as Sioux) straining to follow the arrow's flight. MacNeil heightened the visual impact of his composition by choosing to capture the moment when the arrow has just been released. The Museum ordered this lifesize bronze directly from MacNeil in 1919.