By Michelle Mackel
TIn 1984, the Virginia Steele Scott Gallery of American Art opened to the public. Graciously, Harvard University agreed to the loan of Anna Hyatt Huntington's Diana of the Chase. This beautiful sculpture, set in the loggia, gives visitors a hint of the grandeur of the collection within.
In contrast to the other sculptures of the goddess Diana in the Huntington's collection, this is the only one we see standing on the moon, perhaps to show her dominance over it. The figure demonstrates Anna?s "knowledge of anatomy and composition [which] enable her to impart to her subjects a sense of vitality and grace which is the result of great physical strength completely controlled." Certainly Diana's lithe body demonstrates ease of effort in her pose and play of muscles. We have no doubt the arrow she has just loosed hits its mark. She is helped on her hunt by a frolicsome little whippet, excitedly joining her. Anna was highly praised by critics for knowing not only the forms of animals but their movements, the way they carried their heads, even the way their feet gripped the ground.
In the figure of Diana we can see Anna?s love of showing movement and motion. Notice the many curves which give the sculpture grace and in many cases lead the eye back in to the figure: the dog's tail, the figure's right hand, the drape flowing out behind her. Even the curve of her whole torso gives a three-dimensional spiral to the figure. Perhaps the figure itself suggests a bow. We can also observe how cleverly Anna balanced the figure both mechanically and compositionally. From a frontal view, she leans to her right; this is buttressed by the dog to the right of her feet.
Anna?s sculpture of Diana was praised as the "deification of beauty in harmony and proportion" and inspired her friend Maxwell Anderson to write the following poem after viewing it:
Your Diana did haunt me - and I had to get up that night to try to put her on paper - for she wouldn't let me sleep. And I'm not easily conquered by bronze women. I'm sending the handwritten copy and shall be proud if you want to show it in facsimile.
For Anna Hyatt Huntington's Diana
Now you have shot your arrow at the Sun,
little Diana, and the god caught you there -
the living wind still in your up-blown hair,
your eyes burnt back from staring hard upon
the target of the glory of high noon -
caught and immured you in his burnished air
forever, a too valiant challenger,
lifting the empty sockets of the moon.
Had you walked soberly your forest shade
and hid your virgin lustre under cloud
and let your bow hang at the eaves unstrung
you had not died so light and fierce a maid,
for, dying, gone to join the mutinous crowd
of beautiful blind rebels who died young.
Anna was raised in a school of thought in art called the Cultivated Tradition, popular after the Civil War (especially in New England), which sought to remedy the defects of a materialistic society by familiarizing people with high moral values. In a country devastated by the horror of the Civil War, people found solace in Classical subjects that represented high ideals. Anna was fortunate to be learning sculpture during a time when it was possible (in Boston) for women to study the body from real, human models. Before this, women had to go to Europe to be allowed the study of live models as it wasn't considered decent and lady-like. Also, the career of a professional artist was still at odds with traditional expectations for women to work in the home.
The period of time between 1920 and 1923 was a very busy one for Anna. After devoting herself to farm work during World War I she returned to sculpting in 1920, taking on many large commissions and moving to New York City. She found a large, ground floor studio and apartment on West 12th Street and shared it with a friend sculptress. There were delightful accounts of Sunday afternoon salons in this studio apartment. The two sculptresses' mothers came and stayed for weeks at a time, helping with the cooking and housekeeping and enjoying the carefree artistic life, so different from their own New England backgrounds.
After the war, Anna felt the future held great promise for American sculpture and enjoyed a renewal of artistic activity and awards. In 1920 she received the Legion of Honor from France and the Saltus Gold Medal for Artistic Merit from the National Academy of Design. (Saltus was an executive of Tiffany and Company and an art patron.) In 1922 the French Government honored her by making her a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.
Sometime between 1915 and 1920 Anna met Archer Huntington at a Beaux Arts Ball in New York City, where she masqueraded as Joan of Arc (one of her most popular sculptures and the one for which she won the above awards.) In 1921 she received a commission from Archer for the Mitre Medal for the Hispanic Society of America. She responded, "It is an unusual stimulus to work for one whose gifts and taste promise the keenest judgement and appreciation." She was in love with Archer but was hesitant to become Mrs. Archer Huntington as she preferred the simple life and didn't want the demanding social life of the very wealthy. They worked together in late 1922 and 1923 on arrangements for a sculpture exhibit at the Hispanic Society. At some point, Archer became hospitalized from ?extreme gluttony.? Reportedly, he felt he was a failure after his first marriage dissolved and was trying to commit suicide in a more gentlemanly fashion than shooting himself or throwing himself from a window. He begged Anna to marry him as he lay in the hospital and she accepted, seeing him as a wounded animal that needed gentle treatment. They married quietly in her studio on their joint birthday, March 10, 1923. He was 53 and she was 47 years old.
Anna had no cause for regret. She later praised his support "spiritually, mentally and materially." She felt he was completely in sympathy with her need to work. He also flourished, losing a great deal of weight and writing many books of poetry. She was always a quiet, modest, no-nonsense person and welcomed Archer's advice to keep most of their intentions silent. "That way," he said, "people could comment little, and interfere less."
In the midst of all this, Anna created Diana of the Chase (also known as Diana, or Diana of the Hunt) in 1922. She first modeled and exhibited Diana at the National Academy of Design where it won the Academy's Saltus award, her second in two years. She was also elected as an academician of the Academy. In 1948, the Academy aquired Diana, placing it as the centerpiece of the main stairway of its building, ironically the former home of Anna and Archer Huntington. The sculpture became the unofficial symbol of the Academy itself.
The Roman goddess Diana is the moon goddess, goddess of the hunt, protector of plants and animals of wood and grove, helper of the chaste and of women in childbirth. Her brother, Apollo is the sun god. Her attributes are the moon, the bow, arrow and quiver, dog and deer.
The Diana at The Huntington is made of bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, strong enough to allow the narrow base of support for such a great mass above. She is estimated at approximately 700 pounds. The figure is made by casting separate parts, then hollowing out the pieces and welding them together. The welds are then smoothed over. (Some of these joints can be seen slightly.) Often it is necessary to support the sculpture from within with the use of an armature. A patina is then applied to the surface to give the bronze the dark color. Even though her pieces are hollowed out, our Diana is very heavy and one can see how the dog's position around her legs is important to help to support her. The sculpture's height (without base) is 8.4 feet high. She was cast at the Kunst Foundry, New York. The base on which the bronze sculpture stands was made here for her from a template of the statue's base sent from Harvard. Her placement in the rotunda and the degree to which she is elevated was decided by Robert Wark, Director of the Art Collections at that time.
The patina is an applied resin-based compound and is very delicate to solvents and, unfortunately, bird droppings, due to their acidity. To protect this delicate surface the sculpture is gently dry-brushed to remove surface dirt, rinsed with distilled water, gently washed in a neutral pH soap and distilled water, rinsed again, dried with cotton baby diapers and then waxed with special waxes. The conservator repeats this cleaning process every four months.
This Diana was a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Archer Huntington to the Fogg Museums, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Other casts of the sculpture grace many parks and museums across the United States and can be found in France, Cuba and Japan.
My sincere thanks to Jessica Todd Smith, Huntington Curator of American Art, and Donna Williams, Conservator
Michelle Mackel, Rose/Shakespeare Gardens Docent