Flanking the Fordham Road entrance to New York’s Bronx Zoo are two sculptures of crouching jaguars. The beloved limestone creatures, which arrived at the zoo in 1937, are seen by countless visitors each day. Yet, the legacy of their prolific creator, Anna Hyatt Huntington, is unknown to many.
An exhibition opening tomorrow at Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery aims to change this. Titled “Goddess, Heroine, Beast: Anna Hyatt Huntington’s New York Sculpture, 1902–1936,” the show will reintroduce audiences to the artist’s work, which can be found in numerous museums, parks, and institutions throughout the city. In addition to the Bronx Zoo, these locations include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New-York Historical Society, the Hispanic Society of America, and the National Academy Museum. The show will feature a selection of small bronzes from these venues as well as images of Huntington’s larger public projects, and videos of the artist at work. Curated by Barnard professor Anne Higonnet, “Goddess, Heroine, Beast” is the first exhibition to showcase Huntington’s early New York works.
The daughter of a Harvard zoology and paleontology professor, Huntington—born Anna Vaughn Hyatt in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1876—had a keen interest in animals and anatomy. She took private art lessons and learned to make small animal sculptures, before moving to New York City in 1902. There, she enrolled in the Art Students League. The artist quickly found a market for her statuettes in the city and worked with local foundries such as Gorham & Company to cast, stock, and promote bronze editions of her work. Her small sculptures sold from between $25 to $335 and larger works were priced at $1,500, allowing Huntington to make a comfortable living for herself.
After receiving acclaim for her statuettes, including a bronze medal at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, the artist began constructing larger works. On the corner of West 93rd street and Riverside Drive in Manhattan stands one of Huntington’s most notable accomplishments—her 1915 bronze sculpture Joan of Arc (a photograph of which will be on view in this show). The massive monument depicts the famed heroine on horseback, clad head to toe in armor.
With this commission, Huntington became the first woman to create a public sculpture in Manhattan. Simultaneously, the piece was the first public monument in New York to honor a real woman, rather than an allegorical or mythological figure. The artist later made a second version of Joan of Arc for the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.
At age 47, she married the railroad heir and philanthropist Archer Milton Huntington, who helped take her career to new heights. Archer provided the funds to reproduce her early works and donate them to various institutions. He gave bronze casts of the Bronx Zoo jaguars to the Metropolitan Museum and a replica of Joan of Arc to the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. He also founded the Hispanic Society of America, for which the artist created the equestrian monument El Cid (1927), among other sculptures.
During her lifetime, the artist made a name for herself depicting fierce creatures, strong leaders, and legendary heroines. Nearly a century later, this exhibition identifies Huntington as a powerful figure in her own right. “She succeeded in every way against every odd,” says Higgonet. “And that’s a lesson for women and a lesson for anyone who thinks they can’t become an artist.”