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Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington
(American, 1876–1973)
Horses Backing
1905
cast bronze, 11 x 10 1/2" x 9 1/2"
Gift of the Artist

Like Rosa Bonheur – but American and of a successive generation – Anna Hyatt Huntington focused her artistic talents on the depiction of animal life. Also like Bonheur, Huntington’s earlier work consisted mainly of depictions of domestic animals, only later moving toward subjects that were more wild and exotic. Her father, Alpheus Hyatt, was a Harvard professor of paleontology and curator of the Boston Society of Natural History, and it was as a result of exposure to his profession that she first developed what was to be a lifelong interest in animals. She studied sculpture in Boston with Henry Kittleson, and later enrolled at the Art Student’s League in New York. During this time Huntington also frequented the Bronx Zoo, where she sketched and modeled animals from life. Like so many American artists in the late 1800s and early 1900s, she traveled to Europe to work and study. Her work was well received there, and she was awarded the Purple Rosette of the French Government, and made a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur for her equestrian group of Joan of Arc. In 1923, Hyatt married the wealthy philanthropist Archer Huntington, and in 1931 he purchased a ten thousand-acre estate near Charleston, South Carolina, afterwards known as Brookgreen Gardens, as a home and studio for his wife. Secluded from urban life, Huntington was extremely prolific, and went on to produce hundreds of models which were cast in bronze, even experimenting with the relatively new sculptural material of cast aluminum. Freed as well from the need to produce work for sale, Huntington donated many of her works to museums around the country, including the work now in the Tweed collection. In 1936, Brookgreen Gardens was donated to the state of South Carolina, and is now open to the public as a sculpture park. Dated 1905, Horses Backing belongs to an earlier phase of Huntington’s career. The work was created only two years following her inclusion in a major exhibition at the Society of American Artists, where she was represented by a similar sculpture of two horses titled Winter. Horses Backing reveals the artist’s particular interest in the dynamics of animals in motion. Huntington used her talent at realistic anatomical modeling to capture the strain of muscles, limbs and joints, creating a work that speaks of potential energy, forever frozen in time. That the horses are backing, rather than running forward, lends a unique twist to this time-honored animal subject, which ironically magnifies the implication of their strength.

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