SUBROSA
Number 42   May - June 2005
                 

ANNA HYATT HUNTINGTON AND THE HUNTINGTON GREAT DANES

By Bea Whyld

Anna Hyatt Huntington
(1876-1973)

Anna Vaughn Hyatt, who was to become an outstanding American sculptress in the first half of the 20th century, was born on March 10,1876 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the third child and younger daughter of Audella Beebe Hyatt and Alpheus Hyatt II. Her father was a professor of paleontology and zoology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology for eighteen years and professor of biology and zoology at Boston University from 1877 until his death in 1902. He also served as curator of the Boston Society of Natural History and he helped establish the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Anna’s ancestors had come from England to America in 1629 and 1638. The Hyatts went into Maryland, where there is a Hyattstown and Hyattsville. The Beebees settled in upper New Norfolk County, Virginia. Both sides of Anna’s parentage revealed artistic ability. Grandmother Hyatt had art training and was known to have painted well. Anna’s mother had talents as an artist, particularly as a painter of landscapes. In addition, her mother assisted her father by copying his paleontological data and by painting the sketches and diagrams for his books.

Anna gained from her father a keen knowledge of the physical make-up and behavior of animals. She considered her home conditions among the most beneficial influences on her success as an artist. “I always had a delightful family life, with co-operation for my work from my family. I always got a great deal of sympathy from my family which was a special help.” Her father set up her first art studio and provided her with art materials.

Anna’s early exploration of the animal world and her sketching to record information were self-directed. Although her schools did not provide anything in the way of art programs, when in the country, she would follow animals around and do sketches of them. This manner of informal self-directed education was to be Anna’s life-long procedure in gaining artistic knowledge and developing technical control. Before she had learned to read, she knew the distinguishing qualities and names of a hundred thoroughbreds from pictures, and during her youth she rode horses constantly.

This love and knowledge of animals led Anna to discover her vocation. One day in 1895, her sister, already a sculptor of portraits and figures, asked her to model the dog in a life-sized composition of a boy and a Great Dane she was planning. Anna later recalled this incident “…my first taste of sculpture came from an attempt to help my sister with a mishap to one of her clay models. At the time I was giving 8 hours a day to the violin, with the thought of that as a career.” Anna modeled the dog; the sculpture group was accepted for exhibition by one of the national art societies, and purchased.

Encouraged by this success, Anna began to undertake serious instruction in her craft. Her sister, Harriet Hyatt, showed her the rudiments of modeling. They worked together, Harriet doing the human figure and Anna the animals in collaborating groups.

During her early 20’s, Anna began to exhibit her work. In 1898 a firm of Boston silversmiths placed her models on display. In 1900, at the age of twenty-four, she had her first exhibition at the Boston Arts Club. During this year she also produced her first great work; two Great Danes cut from blue granite for Thomas Lawson, wealthy Boston merchant.

In the early 1900’s the marriage of her sister to Professor Alfred Mayor changed the plans the sisters had considered to form a partnership. After her father died in 1902, Anna went to New York City to pursue her art.

During the early years of Anna’s career, she worked perseveringly to develop her craft, and succeeded in selling much of her work despite keen competition from well-known sculptors. Her distinguished career began when she had her first exhibition at the invitation of the National Sculpture Society. By 1906 Anna had made her reputation as a sculptor of animals and was ready to go abroad to work. No formal art instruction was included in her itinerary. While abroad, Anna lived and worked in France and Italy. She was in Naples in 1908 and returned to the United States in late spring 1909.

In the spring 1910 Anna went back to Paris to do her first life-sized Joan of Arc. After a most productive period in Europe, Anna returned home in the summer of 1910 and reestablished herself in New York City, actively seeking new commissions.

During the period 1911-1917, Anna produced many pieces of sculpture, and received both recognition and financial reward. In 1912, she was listed as one of twelve U.S. women earning $50,000 yearly. During this period she was appointed head of the Department of Sculpture of the Museum of the French Art Institute in New York City. Numerous medals were awarded to her. In 1916, she was made associate of the National Academy of Design in New York.

During World War I and until about 1920, Anna and her family returned to the family home in Massachusetts where she devoted herself to dairy farming and gardening. Although the week days were devoted to tending the farm, Sunday afternoons were given over to visitors including artists, writers, musicians and other notables. This life came to an end when Anna returned to New York City to begin some new commissions. She felt the future held great promise for American sculpture and enjoyed a renewal of artistic activity. During 1920-1922 some of the awards she received were the Saltus Gold Medal from the National Academy of Design for her Joan of Arc and the Legion of Honor in France.

Archer Huntington

In the year 1923 a whole new phase of Anna’s life began when she became Archer Milton Huntington’s second wife. (Archer was formerly married to Helen Manchester Gates who later married Harley Granville-Barker, British playwright.) Archer was the son of Arabella Huntington and adopted son of Collis Potter Huntington, who was one of the wealthiest men of his time. Archer refused the offer to head Collis’ railroad empire and chose instead a life of scholarship, archeology, and philanthropy to better equip himself for the realization of his boyhood dream to become a devotee of Spanish culture in America. Archer wrote numerous volumes of poems, travel notes, and translations from the Spanish. He was the founder of numerous museums, most of them heavily endowed by himself, of which the Hispanic Society in New York City was among the most famous. His love of Spanish culture was to influence his wife’s work greatly.

Both Anna Hyatt and Archer Huntington were well known in the New York City art and museum circles and had met quite easily. Their marriage proved to be a mutually beneficial union. Archer was very proud of her work and wonderfully understanding of it. The Huntingtons sought to build a permanent foundation for American Art and pursued this goal throughout the thirty-two years of their union. Among their gifts was a 15,000-acre tract of forestland in the central Adirondacks near Newcomb, New York to the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

In addition, they founded and developed Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, containing one of the finest collections of American sculpture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the first garden in the United States devoted entirely to statuary. The development of these gardens occupied the Huntingtons for decades. In 1932, Brookgreen was opened to the public and today is one of the largest collections of traditional American sculpture in existence.

Following a schooner cruise to the South Seas, Anna Hyatt Huntington enjoyed one of her periods of greatest activity. This prolific period was interrupted in 1927 when Mrs. Huntington contracted tuberculosis. During her struggle with this disease for the next decade, she managed, obstinately, to continue her work.

By 1937 the Huntingtons had moved from New York to Haverstraw, New York to an estate they called “Rocas.” This move was the result of their dislike of city life.

Returning from a European visit, they were convinced war was imminent. In 1940, they moved to Redding Ridge, Connecticut where Anna, in addition to her sculpture work, practiced organic farming, maintained a bird sanctuary and raised Scottish deerhounds. The estate and farm occupied 1,000 acres of which 700 acres were willed to the state of Connecticut for creation of a Collis P. Huntington Park.

During the 1940’s and 50’s, Anna was increasingly distressed by modern art and what she considered a tasteless machine age. However, despite widespread public interest in abstract sculpture, Mrs. Huntington continued to win recognition and awards.

After a long illness, Archer Huntington died in 1955 at age eighty-five.

In 1958, at the age of eighty-two, and despite operations for cataracts, she continued working. At eighty-five she was described as “a woman of vigorous wit and charm who can scamper up a 10 foot ladder to work on her massive sculptures or knock down with her .22 caliber rifle any squirrel which molest the birds on her estate.” Anna Hyatt Huntington did her sixth, and last, equestrian statue when she was ninety-one.

Towards the end of her life she was convinced she had outlived herself, that her kind of sculpture was completely superseded, and that no one would ever be interested in it again.

Illness compelled her to give up going to the studio about a year before she died. She suffered several dozen small strokes during that year. Finally, on October 4, 1973, Anna Hyatt Huntington died. Today her bronzes may be found in museums all over the world.

The Huntington Great Danes

Transition areas at The Huntington very often prove to contain some of the most interesting art and plant growth that we have.. So it is with the statues of the Great Danes that define the north end of the Shakespeare Garden and the entrance to the Scott Gallery.

The following letter to George D. Hapgood, secretary to Henry Huntington, explains how these dogs came to be a part of our collection:

“October 27, 1930

“Dear Mr. Hapgood:

“The stone dogs were made by my wife and also personally cut by her. They were bought by my mother and presented by her to Mr. H. E. Huntington (as a Christmas gift, I think.)…”

s/s Archer M.Huntington

As you approach the Scott Gallery through the Shakespeare Garden, note that the male is on the east and the female on the west. Both are signed at the bottom and dated 1910. Chisel marks can be seen at the base with smooth stone above. Both sculptures are on a base 19 3/4 inches X 25 1/2 inches. The male is 48 1/2 inches high and the female 45 inches. Anna Hyatt portrayed her dogs as noble, faithful creatures either with beauty and grace or in the upright guarding position of The Huntington Great Danes.

The male great Dane is seated with the forefeet together close to the body and the chest out, the head raised, and the ears pricked out. A collar is buckled under the chin. The statuary is signed on the left side under the back leg.

The female, in the same position, has the muzzle lowered and the ears laid back; the collar is buckled in the back. It is signed ANNA V. HYATT near the tail.

 

In closing, I must refer back to Anna Hyatt Huntington’s expression that her art was no longer valued. If Anna Hyatt Huntington could see the thousands to people who gravitate to these dogs as part of their Huntington experience, small children, young couples, families, all clicking away with their cameras to record their experience, Anna Hyatt would have to recall that old adage, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

Bea Whyld, Rose/Shakespeare Gardens Docent

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