Sunday, May 19, 2013

In the Act of Sculpting

 Marion Boyd Allen "Portrait of Anna Vaughan Hyatt" 1915 Museum of Art at Randolph College

Boston School painter Marion Boyd Allen (1862-1941) may have met Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973) when the latter was studying art in Boston. I can't find any information on the two artists as friends or colleagues, but this charming informal painting speaks of familiarity and friendship. Allen studied painting and drawing at the Boston Museum School under artists Frank Benson, Philip Hale and Edmund Tarbell. She was a proficient and talented student, from whom rapid advancement in her career was expected by all. However, at a critical juncture, Allen's elderly mother fell ill and Allen dutifully put her career on hold for many years to care for her. After her mother's passing, she went on to have an interesting and rewarding career, but never quite regained the meteoric momentum that was predicted from her immense youthful talent. Nonetheless the intrepid Allen had a successful and interesting life (she scaled the Canadian Rockies when in her sixties!) and her work was exhibited widely in major national exhibitions and annuals, receiving numerous awards and honors.

In this painting, Allen has painted Hyatt (later, Huntington) modeling a maquette (small study) for a large equestrian statue Joan of Arc. This painting was exhibited in the 1917 Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and went on to win the Popular Prize (now called "the People's Choice Award") at the 1919 Newport Annual of the Newport Museum and Art Association.

Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington was an internationally famous sculptor in her time, though she seems not as well-known today. Largely self-taught, this daughter of a famous MIT and Harvard scientist also studied a little at the Boston Museum school and at the Art Students' League in New York City.  She had her first one person show at age 24, and went on to a hugely successful career as a sculptor, known especially for her amazingly powerful animal and equestrian works. She was the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her work is in around 200 american museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution.

Huntington first achieved what we would consider "rock star" status with a sculpture of Joan of Arc. A small-scale model for this piece won a medal at the Paris Salon of 1910, and the artist was soon commissioned by numerous cities around the world for large-scale versions. The first of this series of commissions came from the city of New York who commissioned a monumental scale Joan for Riverside Drive Park, where it still presides today. The piece was dedicated on December of 1915 and the Christian Science Monitor of December 10, 1915 described the event,

"When as a climax he [the French Ambassador] drew forth and presented to Miss Hyatt the decoration with which the French government has honored the American woman who made this... the band of the Garde Lafayette struck up the “Marseillaise,” and cheers unrestrained arose from the polite New York crowd assembled on the noble site overlooking the historic Hudson.”

The article continues: “Every one present must have felt, with a thrill of admiration, that Miss Hyatt, as sculptor, had made good with a grand opportunity. She has contributed one of the few—precious few!—satisfactory equestrian monuments to her country and time; and this, so far as present recollection goes, is an absolutely unprecedented achievement for a woman.”

In a fun human interest aside, Huntington met her husband not long thereafter at one of the city's Beaux Arts Balls, when she arrived costumed as her heroine, Joan of Arc. Archer Milton Huntington came from an extremely wealthy family and was a noted scholar in the field of Hispanic Studies. He had founded the Hispanic Society of America in New York City in 1904, and after their marriage, his wife designed the museum's beautiful courtyard and grounds. The couple went on to eventually found fourteen museums and four wildlife preserves around the country.

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