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Sunday, May 19, 2024

A Grand Menagerie – The Sculpture of Anna Hyatt Huntington

The Wild Heart of Nature

This spring, the wild heart of nature will beat within the Mary M. Torggler Fine Arts Center at Christopher Newport University.

“A Grand Menagerie: The Sculpture of Anna Hyatt Huntington” — the most comprehensive exhibition of her work in decades — will open April 20 and run through Oct. 6. This vivid tableau of the artist’s life’s work will showcase nearly 100 pieces from 32 museums nationwide, and the public is invited to enjoy it at no charge.

Greyhounds Playing, 1937
37.5 x 43 x 18.5 in.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Gift of the artist), 2015.19.3664

Hyatt Huntington was a pioneering force in early 20th-century art who created small-scale sculptures as well as monumental masterpieces, a pursuit undertaken by few women of her day. She was especially celebrated for her dynamic and detailed sculptures of both wild and domestic animals. “I model what I see,” she once said.

Hyatt Huntington was a versatile artist who also produced works representing historical or mythological figures, such as her graceful Diana of the Chase, which will be on view at the Torggler.

Hyatt Huntington was independently successful and nationally recognized when her marriage to philanthropist Archer M. Huntington brought her talents to Newport News, Virginia. In 1927, her husband took control of the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., founded by his father.

Yawning Tiger, 1917
9.5 x 32 x 9 in.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Gift of the artist), 2015.19.3666

Hyatt Huntington’s influence in Newport News endures and inspires, particularly in the iconic sculptures of four stone lions on the parapets of Lions Bridge at the Mariners’ Museum. In nearby Norfolk, her monumental equestrian sculpture The Torch Bearers greets visitors at the entrance of the Chrysler Museum of Art.

Torggler Executive Director Holly Koons first encountered the lion sculptures after moving to the area a few years ago. She had become familiar with Hyatt Huntington’s work during her tenure as the director of collections and exhibitions at Telfair Museums in Savannah, Georgia.

“Seeing the lions felt like running into old friends in a still unfamiliar place,” Koons said. “I soon learned that while virtually everyone in the area knew about the lions, very few were aware of the artist who created them.”

This exhibition aims to change that. It offers a look at Hyatt Huntington’s ability to capture the essence of the animal kingdom, from the grace of domesticated creatures to the majesty of the wild. It also will present a number of important public monuments, including two casts of her famous Joan of Arc.

Elephant Running, n.d.
7.25 x 15.75 x 7.5 in.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Gift of the artist), 2015.19.3668

About the Artist

Anna Vaughn Hyatt was born in 1876 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her father, Alpheus Hyatt, was a prominent paleontologist and zoologist at MIT and Boston University. He encouraged his daughter to work from direct observation of animals. The artist attended some classes at the Art Students League in New York City but was largely self-taught. She spent hours at what is now the Bronx Zoo, modeling small clay figures on site. Señor Lopez, a jaguar from Paraguay who lived at the zoo, inspired an early work that is included in the exhibition. Reaching Jaguar depicts a jaguar beginning to descend off his rocky perch. Later jaguar sculptures by Hyatt Huntington are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and in the Mariners’ Museum. Another piece in the exhibition, Winter Noon, was one of the first pieces to bring her recognition, in 1903. The small sculpture of a pair of workhorses huddled against the wind was acquired by many public and private collections. Hyatt Huntington rented a studio in France where she produced a life-sized Joan of Arc using over one ton of clay. The jury at the prestigious Paris Salon the following year awarded her an honorable mention. She was prevented from receiving a higher award because the jury believed that no woman could have completed such a sculpture without male assistance. In 1915, she created another Joan of Arc – the first public monument by a woman to be erected in New York City and its first monument dedicated to a historical woman. She met Archer Huntington in the early 1920s, he was a scholar of Hispanic literature and history. The two married in 1923 and soon began collaborating on projects. In 1931, Hyatt Huntington and her husband founded Brookgreen Gardens, which is a major lender to the Torggler’s exhibition. She worked daily in her studio until she was in her 90s and died in 1973 at age 97.

About The Mary M. Torggler Fine Arts Center

Christopher Newport University’s Mary M. Torggler Fine Arts Center opened in 2021. A non-collecting institution serving both the campus community and the general public, the Torggler develops and presents exceptional visual arts exhibitions and programs that promote creative expression, critical thinking and cultural dialogue. The Center houses four galleries along with studio classrooms for public art classes, workshops and camps. The building is named in honor of Mary M. Torggler, who, with her husband George, is a longtime supporter of arts and education programs at the university.

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