I wanted to introduce two new acquisitions that recently joined out permanent collection. In November 2019, the NSLM became the proud stewards of two third-scale bronzes by the sculptor Herbert Haseltine (American, 1877-1962). They arrived on-site in January to great fanfare from staff. And here they are!
On the right is Percheron Mare: Messaline and Foal and on the left is Percheron Stallion: Rhum. These two were part of a series of nineteen sculptures based on prized domestic animals, known as the “British Champion Animals.” In 1996, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts published a book on the series that included images of the sculptures accompanied by passages from Haseltine’s journals that describe meeting each of his subjects and his sense of their personalities. Much of the information here comes from that publication.
The subjects for Rhum and Messaline and Foal were owned by Mrs. Robert Emmet. Rhum won at the La Mortagne Show, 1919; First and Champion at the Royal Agricultural Society of England, 1921, 1922, and 1923; and was First and Champion at the Norwich Stallion Show, 1922, 1923. Messaline won First at the La Mortagne Show, 1917, 1918, and 1919; First Show of the Royal Counties Agricultural Society, 1920; First and Group Prize at the Show of the Norfolk Agricultural Society, 1920; First at the Show of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, 1920; First Moreton-in-the-Marsh, 1920; First and Champion at the Show o the Royal Agricultural Society of England, 1921, 1922.
Haseltine traveled to the Emmets’ home in Warwickshire, England to meet his models. The sculptor was clearly very impressed with his accommodations as he noted that each bedroom has its own bathroom.
Describing the stallion, Haseltine wrote, Rhum was “a grand specimen of Percherons – dappled grey, heavy of bone with powerful quarters, spirited head, a large expressive eye, and delicately shaped ears.” Apparently Rhum was undisturbed by the artist, allowing him to take measurements and trace Rhum’s hooves. Haseltine also described the moment he chose to depict, “I represented the magnificent Rhum with head erect and turned slightly to the left, with his eyes accompanying this movement. His lips were beginning to quiver, preparatory to neighing, as he would do when he heard the mares being turned out in the nearby pastures.”
Though the mare was “relaxed and patient-looking,” the foal took a little more patience. According to Haseltine, the foal “was the most difficult to model; he was always hiding behind his mother, and even when held by an obliging groom, was never still for one instance.” Looking at the model of foal, you can see the skittishness in his eyes. As Haseltine wrote, he “managed to convey the spirit of startled effrontery mingled with fear, as he pressed himself against the spacious flank of his protectress.”
Haseltine originally conceived of this as a group sculpture with all three horses together. Cast in plaster of Paris and covered in silver leaf, he exhibited them together at the George Petit Gallery in Paris in 1925 but decided to make them more true in-the-round sculptures and separated them as you see now. Sculptures in-the-round are meant to be walked around and viewed from several different perspectives and he felt that grouped together, it didn’t allow for the same experience.
Several versions in various mediums and sizes were commissioned by individuals and museums, which were detailed in Haseltine’s memoirs. There are six cast at this third-scale size. The ones now in NSLM’s collection were commissioned from the artist by Mrs. Emmet. Both have a green-brown patina and Rhum has parcel-gilt bronze on his braid. They sit on a stone base with inscriptions that detail each horse’s pedigree, owner, and accolades with dates, along with the artist’s signature.
We look forward to sharing these with you once we reopen! Keep checking our Facebook and Instagram for updates and posts on objects in our collections and fun activities.
A hearty thank you to our donors and friends who assisted with this acquisition.
 Malcolm Cormick and Herbert Haseltine, Champion Animals: Sculptures by Herbert Haseltine, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 1996
Lauren Kraut is the Collections Manager at the National Sporting Library & Museum. Her primary focus is to maintain and preserve the works of art in the collection and on loan. Email her at lkraut@NationalSporting.org