Wild at heart: Rediscovering the sculpture of Anna Hyatt Huntington

Cranes Rising by Hun­tington, 1934. Bronze; height 45, width 16, depth 22 inches. Art Properties, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Colum­bia University in the City of New York, gift of the artist; photo­graph by Mark Ostrander, courte­sy of the Miriam and Ira D. Wal­lach Art Gallery.

The energy of some art only be­comes apparent with the passage of time. Anna Hyatt Huntington made sculpture that was extremely popu­lar in the early twentieth century, only superficially understood, and then almost completely forgotten. Her reputation suffered from ordinary problems: she was American, a woman, and her style was realistic. It also suffered from an unusual problem: too much success.

In fairy tales a courageous heroine meets a prince and lives happily ever after. Anna did marry a prince of sorts and did live happily, but her sculpture was less fortu­nate-until recently. A team of Columbia University and Barnard College students has been discovering sculptures, archives, and photographs that reveal how much more audacious and original her career and work were than anyone had sus­pected.  So much has changed in the past century that we can at last see past the classical references, the armor, and the minor genre of animal sculpture, to the wild spirit of Anna Hyatt Huntington. 

She was formed by her family more than by a teacher or a studio. Born Anna Vaughn Hyatt, she learned about nature from her father, Alpheus Hyatt, a profes­sor of paleontology and zoology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He took her to the zoo, where she studied at his side. During seaside summers at Annisquam, north of  Boston, he ran an informal course for his students out of his home. Anna received very little formal education but her mind was sharpened by what she absorbed from her father's teaching. She learned about art from her grandmothers, Elizabeth Randolph King Hyatt and Lydia Reynolds Beebe, and from her mother, Audella Beebe Hyatt. Toward the end of her seventy-year career, Anna wrote with love and gratitude that her grandmothers and mother had received "as good an art training as young women were allowed to have in their day. Both of my parents did all that lay within their limited means to encourage my art studies."1

Always larger than life, Anna took the art world by surprise. At ease with all creatures, no matter how large, she launched her career with animal subjects. Her first sales were made around the turn of the century through the Boston firm of Shreve, Crump and Low, which specialized in jewelry and fine metalwork. After her father died in 1902, she relocated to New York City, which, despite long trips and sojourns in country houses, became her base. Only in New York could she have found so many skilled foundries to produce sale­able work, so many cultural institutions willing to take a chance on a woman, and so many other women art­ists and critics to believe in her aspirations.

From Shreve, Crump and Low, Anna shifted production and sales of her small bronze works to the New York firm of Gorham and Company. In 1902 and 1903 the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sci­ences-now the Brooklyn Museum- com­missioned a series of small animal sculptures from her, and in 1906 the Metropol­itan Mu­seum of Art added its institutional momentum to Anna's career when it bought her tiny seven-and-a-quarter-inch Winter Noon, Two Horses (c. 1903) and her Tigers Watching (c. 1906). In 1912 the Met acquired Goats Fighting (Fig. 10).  

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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