The National Academy of Design
by Katie Lauricella
In 1939, Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington gave their long-time Fifth Avenue home, along with much of the property surrounding it, to the National Academy of Design. The National Academy had been established in 1825 in hopes of “bringing art to all through arts education and exhibition.” The Academy was and is an institution devoted to promoting and educating artists. The Huntington townhouse became the National Academy’s museum and school of visual arts. After a lengthy period during which the museum and school were separate entities, the gift finally allowed the National Academy to consolidate its two branches. By donating the property, Archer and Anna made a lasting contribution to the city of New York and to American art.
Archer Milton Huntington purchased the townhouse at 1083 Fifth Avenue soon after it was constructed in 1902. Huntington hired Ogden Codman, a popular interior decorator and architect in the Beaux-Art style, to expand and renovate the home. An entire wing was added, connected to the rest of the structure by a grand rotunda. The National Academy now uses the rotunda for sculpture display.
In 1923 Archer married the sculptor Anna Vaughn Hyatt, and together they further modified the home. The top floor became Anna’s studio space. She used a block and tackle pulley to transport her often very large sculptures between the top and bottom floors of the townhouse. Visitors to the National Academy can still glimpse the pulley from the townhouse’s oval staircase. The mansion remained the Huntingtons’ primary New York residence until the 1930s, The mansion remained the Huntingtons' primary New York residence until the 1930s, when Anna's earlier bout with tuberculosis prompted the couple to leave the city. Meanwhile, the National Academy of Design had relocated several times and was in search of a permanent residence in a prominent location. Archer and Anna Hyatt generously provided them with exactly that.
The Huntingtons transferred their property at Fifth Avenue and 89th Street to the National Academy between 1939 and 1940. The building was renovated in order to accommodate the institution, although the domestic character endures in its small scale and architectural details. Upon his death in 1955, Archer also willed to the National Academy his property at 1 East 89th Street, which was then sold in order to fund construction of a new building for the Academy School for visual arts, connected to the museum and accessible through the rotunda.
The Huntingtons’ signature remains inscribed on the National Academy of Design in the form of Anna Hyatt Huntington’s life-size sculpture, Diana of the Chase. Huntington’s rendition of the Roman goddess Diana stands apart from those of her predecessors. The artist chose to forego much of the traditional Diana iconography, such as the demure chignon and half-moon diadem, and instead gave her Diana a quintessential 1920s hairstyle and headband. While other artists such as Augustus Saint-Gaudens caught the tension just before Diana fires her arrow, Anna Hyatt Huntington captures the moment immediately following the arrow’s release into the air. The Diana’s upward spiraling trajectory fills the Academy’s rotunda space, and her winding form is reflected in the spiral staircase.
The history of the sculpture and the museum, though, is actually a history of two editions of the Diana moving between different settings. A first version of Anna Hyatt Huntington’s sculpture, cast in 1922, won the National Academy’s Saltus Medal for Merit and was exhibited in the Academy’s museum on West 57th Street. Following the exhibition, the Huntingtons displayed a cast - presumably the original - in a niche in the dining room of the Fifth Avenue townhouse. Subsequently the artist donated this version of the work to Brookgreen Gardens, the first public sculpture garden in the United States, which she and her husband had founded in South Carolina.
The Huntingtons purchased the land that would become Brookgreen Gardens in 1930. The couple originally intended to turn the land into a winter estate, but instead decided to preserve the area’s natural Southern flora and fauna in the form of a sculpture garden. They hired a director to care for the wildlife, and Anna designed the walking paths in the shape of a butterfly with wings outstretched. Brookgreen holds many of her pieces, but the Diana of the Chase has been called its most beautiful and impressive work.
The Diana cast which Anna Hyatt Huntington sent to Brookgreen Gardens was the same one she had displayed in her Manhattan home. The sculpture’s move from metropolitan New York to the lush nature of Brookgreen Gardens mirrors the artist’s own relocation, a testament perhaps to the fact that she came to feel more at home outside of Manhattan by the 1930s. Even when New York was her career base, she regularly summered on the North Shore of Massachusetts, at Annisquam, and as she grew older she began to dislike city life. Her connection to nature and the countryside reflects her preference for sculpting animals, and she found an “alter ego” in the Roman goddess of animals. Huntington sculpted animals “in order to be near them.” The artist’s attachment to nature, and her 1930s move from the city to the country, is reflected in the journey of her sculpted alter ego, the goddess of animals and of the hunt.
The second relocation of Anna Hyatt Huntington’s Diana of the Chase involved a different cast of the statue, and took place within the townhouse. In 1948, several years after the property on Fifth Avenue was deeded to the National Academy of Design, Anna Hyatt gifted a cast of the goddess to the museum. Rather than returning the sculpture to its original space in the dining room, the National Academy chose to place it in the large rotunda. The sculpture's shift from a private into a more public space is notable. Although Anna Hyatt Huntington must have had her reasons for placing her Diana in her dining room, its divine subject matter suits the rotunda’s central and highly visible position. Perhaps, while she was living in the townhouse, Anna Hyatt Huntington, preferred to keep the obvious similarities between herself and the figure of Diana domestically quiet. Like the archetypal Diana, Anna Hyatt Huntington was a mistress of animals, with a powerful will and a fierce nature. In the rotunda, Diana’s attributes were out in the open.
The National Academy’s relocation of the Diana sculpture from the dining room to the rotunda also acknowledges Anna Hyatt Huntington’s prestige within the New York art community. Huntington belonged to the National Academy’s league of academicians, a group elected and voted on annually by their artistic peers. Anna Hyatt Huntington’s position within the Academy testifies to the respect her skill had earned her, and it made the Huntingtons’ townhouse an obvious choice for the institution’s new home. The many honors and commissions she had won, the many museum collections she was included in, and the monuments she had created for cities in the United Sates and abroad, all made the choice to place her Diana in a place of honor appropriate. Greeting visitors to the National Academy of Design, visible from Fifth Avenue, the Diana was set to become a symbol of its institution.