A prolific and innovative American sculptor, Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973) was one of the masters of naturalistic animal sculpture. Particularly noted for her equestrian statues, Huntington, along with her husband, helped found nearly 20 museums and wildlife preserves as well as America's first sculpture garden, Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina.
The youngest of three children, Huntington was born Anna Vaughn Hyatt on March 10, 1876, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to noted paleontologist Alpheus Hyatt and amateur landscape artist Aduella Beebe Hyatt. From an early age, Huntington followed the examples of her parents by acquiring both an extensive knowledge of the anatomy and behavior of animals and an enthusiasm for drawing. As a child at her family's summer home, Seven Acres, in Cape Cod and at her brother's farm, Porto Bello, in rural Maryland, Huntington developed an affection for horses; as Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein related in American Women Artists, "[s]earching for her once at dinnertime, her family found her lying in a field, nose to nose with a horse, watching the action of its jaw muscles as it chewed on a cud of grass." During her childhood sojourns in the countryside, Huntington also made her first clay models of horses, dogs, and other domestic animals.
Although Huntington was fascinated by the animal world, she initially entered a private school in Cambridge to study the violin and spent several years training to become a professional concert violinist. At the age of 19, while suffering from an illness—possibly nervous exhaustion— Huntington assisted her sister, Harriet Hyatt (Mayor), repair the broken foot on a sculpture the elder had produced. Pleased with the results, the elder Hyatt sister asked her to collaborate on a sculpture which included the family dog; in Energy and Individuality in the Art of Anna Huntington, Sculptor, and Amy Beach, Composer, Myrna Eden reported that "the sculpture group was accepted for exhibition by one of the national art societies, and purchased." Having found both enjoyment and success in her first professional sculpture, Huntington turned away from the violin to study under Boston portrait sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson. Her first one-woman show was held at the Boston Arts Club. It consisted of 40 animal sculptures. Her original plan was to open an art school. However, the death of her father and marriage of her sister to Alfred Mayor changed these early plans. Huntington left Massachusetts for New York City.
In New York, Huntington continued her frequently self-directed studies. She attended the Art Students League, where she studied under three sculptors: George Grey Barnard, Hermon MacNeil, and Gutzon Borglum, the designer of Mount Rushmore. Preferring to work independently, Huntington left formal instruction in favor of direct observation. Over the next few years, she spent much of her time at the Bronx Zoo. As Wayne Craven explained in Sculpture in America, "[Huntington] became fascinated with the beauty found in the great cats of the New York zoo, particularly a prize jaguar called Senor Lopez." The figures modeled from these personal observations, including the 1902 equestrian work Winter Noon and the 1906 sculpture Reaching Jaguar, based on Senor Lopez, became Huntington's first major works.
During this period, Huntington shared several studios with other young female artists and musicians; one of these was Abastenia St. Leger Eberle, another up-and-coming sculptor. Eden related that: "Anna and Abastenia formed an artistic partnership which led them to collaborate on at least two statues: Men and Bull, awarded a bronze medal at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904, and Boy and Goat Playing, exhibited during the spring of 1905 in the gallery of the Society of American Artists." The two sculptors worked together for about two years before following their individual paths, Huntington preferring a more traditional style and Eberle favoring the more modern Ash Can style.
In American Women Sculptors, Rubinstein quoted Huntington as saying, "One ought to be perfectly independent in one's work and above outside influence … before going abroad." By 1907, Huntington felt confident enough in her abilities to travel to Europe. Choosing to forgo academic study in order to pursue her craft independently, Huntington took a studio in Auvers-sur-Oise where she modeled two more jaguars that were exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1908. In the autumn of 1908, Huntington left France for Naples, Italy, to work on a colossal lion commissioned by a high school in Dayton, Ohio. Huntington returned to the United States for the dedication ceremonies, but went back to France about a year later to commence modeling another grand-scale piece.
For years, Huntington had wanted to produce a life-sized equestrian statue of Joan of Arc, and she now devoted herself entirely to this goal. Rubinstein described this process in American Women Sculptors: "The sculptor … immersed herself in research about the saint. She traveled to Rouen and other places [Joan] had lived … searched the streets of Paris for the right kind of horse and … brought it to her studio… . Shutting herself in her studio and working ten hours a day, she massed three and half tons of clay, built the armature, and carried out the work in four months." This early model garnered an honorable mention at the Paris Salon of 1910, and led to Huntington's being offered a commission by the City of New York to produce the model in bronze to honor the saint's 500th birthday. A replica of this bronze was erected in Blois, France, and the French government made Huntington a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. Throughout this period, Huntington received several other commissions and honors, raising her career to new heights. In 1912, she was one of only 12 women in the U.S. making at least $50,000 a year; in 1915, she received the Purple Rosette from the French government; and in 1916, she won the Rodin Gold Medal from the Plastics Club of Philadelphia as well as becoming an associate of the National Academy of Design.
Following a brief withdrawal to Cape Cod during World War I, Huntington returned to New York City to take up new works, including a standing Joan of Arc and two sculptures depicting the Greek goddess Diana. One of these, Diana of the Chase, won the National Academy of Design's Saltus Award in 1922. Around this time, Huntington was working with railroad heir and philanthropist Archer Milton Huntington on an upcoming Hispanic Society sculpture exhibition. The two married quietly—and suddenly—in Huntington's studio on her 47th birthday in 1923. According to American Women Sculptors, "[b]oth were tall, imposing figures; they shared cultural interests and a sense of noblesse oblige toward their community. It was said of Archer Huntington that wherever he put his foot down, a museum sprang up." The couple took an extended honeymoon; following their return to New York, Huntington took on several new commissions, including her second major equestrian work, El Cid Campeador, in honor of the medieval Spanish warrior.
From the mid-1920s on, Huntington battled tuberculosis, reducing her output dramatically. Most of Huntington's works during this time were inspired by her husband's fascination with Spanish culture; she produced a number of pieces for the New York grounds of the Hispanic Society of America, founded by her husband. In spite of decreased production, Huntington continued to enjoy public recognition, as detailed in Sculpture in America: "[Huntington's] Fighting Bulls received the Shaw Prize at the National Academy [of Design] show in 1928, and the following year she received the Grand Cross of Alfonso XII from the Spanish government; in 1930 she won the Gold Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and two years later Syracuse University gave her an honorary Doctor of Arts degree in recognition of her work." Huntington was also made an Officer of the French Legion of Honor in 1933.
In 1930, the Huntingtons purchased approximately 7,000 acres of former plantation land in the coastal region of South Carolina to provide a better winter environment for Huntington's illness. The milder climate permitted Huntington to resume work, and the estate, Brookgreen Gardens, became the first modern sculpture garden when the grounds were opened to the public in 1932. The Brookgreen collection includes many works Huntington completed while living at Atalaya, the Huntingtons' winter home on the estate, including several cast in aluminum—some of the earliest sculptures to use that medium. Brookgreen also features figures by many other sculptors of the era. A Guide to the Sculpture Parks and Gardens of America commented that, "[d]uring the Depression years of the 1930s, the Huntingtons' acquisitions were a boon to struggling artists; in its first six years, the Brookgreen added 197 art works."
After her recovery from tuberculosis, Huntington resumed work vigorously. In 1936, the American Academy of Arts and Letters held a retrospective exhibition of 171 of Huntington's works in New York. The following year, she received the Pennsylvania Academy's Widener Gold Medal for Greyhounds Playing. According to Energy and Individuality in the Art of Anna Huntington, Sculptor, and Amy Beach, Composer, "[t]hat same year she had her first solo exhibition on the West Coast at the Palace of the Legion of Honor at San Francisco." Huntington then arranged for 65 pieces from her 1936 New York exhibition to tour the United States through 1938 and 1939.
In the late 1930s, the Huntingtons donated their Fifth Avenue townhouse to the National Academy of Design and left for a Haverstraw, New York, estate called Rocas. Huntington here acquired her own zoo featuring monkeys, bears, wolves, and wild boars for use in continued animal modeling. After a few years, the Huntingtons donated this estate and zoo to the state of New York and moved to a large farm, named Stanerigg in honor of the Huntingtons' Scottish deerhounds, in Redding, Connecticut. Huntington spent the duration of World War II on both her art and on wartime support, including the canning of produce from Victory Gardens and the sponsorship of a chapter of the Red Cross in her home at Stanerigg. Notable pieces dating from this era include two bas-reliefs at New York's Hispanic Society Museum, Don Quixote and Boabdil.
With the advent of the 1950s, modern, abstract sculpture began to replace Huntington's more traditional, academic style, much to the artist's dismay. Huntington was quoted in American Women Sculptors as referring to modernism "as an overwhelming flood of degenerate trash drowning sincere and conservative workers in all the arts." Her husband became ill and Huntington spent much of her time caring for him. However, she continued to work, producing even large pieces such as the equestrian Lady Godiva for an art association in Indiana and a group of large figures entitled The Torch Bearers, installed in Madrid in 1955.
Following Archer Huntington's death, Huntington returned to full-time art work, despite being in her 80s. Between 1959 and 1966, she completed five more equestrian statues, including one of the late 19th century writer and activist José Martí; one of a young Abraham Lincoln; and one of a young Andrew Jackson. On Huntington's 90th birthday in 1966 she was still working, reportedly on a bust of the composer Charles Ives.
Around the end of the 1960s, Huntington finally retired from creative work. She died on October 4, 1973, in Redding, Connecticut, following a series of strokes. Active over a period of 70 years, Huntington is today recognized as one of America's finest animal sculptors, whose naturalistic works helped to bridge the gap between the traditional styles of the 1800s and the abstract styles of the mid-20th century. Her prominence also enabled other female artists to succeed. Her innovations in technique and display, as exhibited through her aluminum statues in Brookgreen Gardens, guarantee her place in the annals of art history.
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