John Joseph Boyle was born in New York and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After his father passed away, he started a career as a stonecutter to support his mother. In time he rose from a career as a stonecutter to stone carver all while studying art in the classes of Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy. In 1877, he had saved enough money to continue his study of the arts at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris where he stayed for three years. Upon his return, he was commissioned to sculpt a Native American Family at the behest of a prominent Chicago resident. To better understand and portray a Native American Family, Boyle visited the Ottawa tribe out West to study their habits and appearance. The finished sculpture done for Chicago, “The Indian Family”, had such a powerful impact when shown in Philadelphia, that the city commissioned a similar piece called “Stone Age in America”. Boyle was at his best when rendering Native American subjects. Boyle went on to create portrait busts as well as “Plato” and “Sir Francis Bacon” for the rotunda in the new Library of Congress.
A number of castings of this model are known to have personal dedications by the artist to friends. (Leslie William Miller 1848 - 1931); Miller was a principal of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art form 1880-1920 and, like Boyle, was a close friend of Thomas Eakins.
Boyle’s Indian Capturing an Eagle is set upon a rugged boulder-like terrain in keeping with the realistic setting the figure and eagle, would have been found in. The eagle was revered in Indian culture for its power and courage. The figure here is collecting feathers from the eagle it has captured. Decoration with eagle feathers was symbolically significant to many Indian peoples. In rendering Indian Capturing an Eagle, Boyle accurately depicted the traditional dress of a Native American in such detail that is imaginative but not excessive. Boyle exhibits the skill and knowledge a Native American Warrior had when going out to hunt and gather for his tribe.
John Joseph Boyle was a Beaux-Arts sculptor known for his depictions of Indians and early modern man. Indian Capturing an Eagle was created during a time in which America was ready to romanticize the Native American civilization that they had formerly hated and feared. The country was ready to show its pride over the superiority of its governing system by contrasting it with the lawless savage ages of the past.
Collection of Leslie W. Miller (gift from the above)