H orses have for centuries – millennia even – captured the imaginations of artists across the world. From the 3000-year-old chalk horse carved into the Uffington slopes of Oxfordshire, to the wild-eyed steeds of the Parthenon, to Stubbs’ detailed studies, the form and movement of these powerful and dignified animals have engaged both the artists who strive to capture them and viewers who appreciate their successes. Among the most talented sculptors who dedicated his efforts to horses was Herbert Haseltine (1877-1962).
Son of landscape painter William Stanley Haseltine, Herbert developed his interest in horses in his youth. An American, born in Rome, educated at Harvard and trained in art in Munich and Paris, he was wordly and well-connected. His passion for polo and hunting led him to horses as a subject for sculpture when Aimé-Nicolas Morot suggested he try sculpture as a preparatory exercise for his drawing and painting studies. His first sculpture was a model of two mounted polo players in action, and invited acclaim at the Paris Salon of 1906.
Taking to sculpture, he continued with subject of polo, which led to a growing reputation and commissions from racehorse owners and enthusiasts across the world. Among his patrons were King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra of England and Prince Schönburg-Hartenstein of Vienna. His commissions took him as far afield as India where, through the suggestion of Edwin Lutyens, the Maharaja Jam Saheb of Nawanagar in 1925 commissioned Haseltine for a monument to the Maharajadiraj Jam Sri Rawalji, founder of the House of Nawanagar.
It was in India that Haseltine started to develop a project that would take many years, and a very special patron, to complete: the 1949 multi-gem and gold horse heads ‘Indra’ and ‘Lakshmi’. These heads were modelled after the Maharaja’s favourite stallion and mare, drawing on 17th and 18th century Indian miniature paintings for the decorative elements of bridle, collar and plumes. Influenced by his interest in Egyptian Art, Haseltine pared back these heads to elegant simplicity, the first versions executed in bronze.
However, Haseltine envisioned a more refined and opulent incarnation of ‘Indra’ and ‘Lakshmi’, to be cast in gold and ornamented with precious stones. Haseltine finished most of the preliminary work on these pieces soon after his visit to India in 1938 but the great expense of these materials meant that he had to wait for the right patron before he could carry out his designs.
This patron was Barbara Hutton who, in the late 1940s, gave Haseltine the chance to finish these beautiful pieces. An heiress of tremendous wealth, a jewelry lover and aficionado, from a very young age she displayed a passion for gemstones. As a woman she developed an astounding collection of jewelry and ornamental objects. It has been noted by both jewellers and friends that Hutton not only loved gemstones for their beauty, but was quite knowledgeable regarding them. She spent hours studying her jewelled pieces, admiring them as the culmination of the work of both man and nature and no doubt the refined form of the horse heads would have appealed to her in this sense, as the sculptures were inspired by the natural forms of horses, but pared back to artistic elegance and ornamented with the natural beauty of gemstones that were skilfully shaped for the purpose. The intricate Indian-inspired designs would have greatly charmed her long-held passion and spoken to her sensibilities, since she is said to have loved welcoming guests to her palace in the Kasbah of Tangier dressed in a sari.
With Hutton’s support, Haseltine finished the pieces in three years. His work was aided by the Bedi-Rassy Foundry in New York, which cast them in 24 carat gold, mounted on globes of rock crystal, and crowned with carved crystal plumes. Joseph Ternbach, the craftsman and conservator who had done the meticulous surface finishing for the Man O’ War Monument, chased and ornamented the gold heads with diamonds, pearls, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, garnets and jade.
These pieces truly represent a serendipity between talent, craft, and means of production. Their significance has been appropriately appreciated in their inclusion in the 2004 exhibition Masterpieces of American Jewelry in New York (later travelling across the globe), and inclusion in the catalogue of that event.
We are currently accepting consignments for GOLD: The Midas Touch, 29 October 2019.
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