The equine Dr. Frankenstein and Mother Earth

As the mission of the NSLM states, we are committed to “preserve, promote, and share the literature, art, and culture of equestrian, angling, and field sports.” Two new temporary exhibitions cover all three of these areas.

The National Sporting Library & Museum reopened in limited scope on Friday, July 17. Greeting visitors in Gallery 1 is In Bronze: Herbert Haseltine featuring two new acquisitions: a pair of bronzes by American sculptor Herbert Haseltine (1877-1962), Percheron Stallion: Rhum and Percheron Messaline: Mare and Foal. They are part of the British Champion Animals series made up of 19 sculptures of prizewinning livestock including cattle, sheep, pigs, and horses created by Haseltine beginning in 1920.

In Bronze: Herbert Haseltine, on view until August 23, 2020.

Though several quarter-scale size sculptures were produced (one of which is also in the exhibit, Polo Pony: Perfection), it is believed that Haseltine produced only one complete third-scale set. It was purchased by Marshall Field in 1933 for Chicago’s Field Museum and then purchased by Paul Mellon in 1986, who donated them to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

The current exhibition, open only until August 23, places the Percherons within the context of other Haseltine sculptures in the NSLM’s permanent collection. The earliest sculptures on display are a pair of Portuguese Rejoneadores, horse-riding bullfighters. From there, Haseltine’s evolution as an artist can be followed through the room – the influence of Egyptian art and his experimentation with colors, sizes, and technique.

Portuguese Rejoneadores, a pair modeled 1921, gilded bronze, 12 3/4 x 11 1/4 x 4 3/4 inches, Gift of the Estate of Milton Ritzenberg, 2018.

In 1913, Haseltine began his quest to create his version of the quintessential Thoroughbred, inspired by the many horses that impressed him. Over the span of three decades, he continued to fine tune this composite concept, like an equine Dr. Frankenstein. One of those models is in this exhibition entitled The Thoroughbred and dated 1928. Finally, in 1949, he was satisfied with the result. That version, aptly named The Perfect Thoroughbred, sits next to 1928 model. See if you can spot some of the changes!

(left) The Thoroughbred, 1928, bronze on marble, 10 x 13 1/4 x 4 inches, on loan from a Private Collection; (right) The Thoroughbred Horse: The Perfect Thoroughbred, 1949, bronze, 13 x 14 x 5 5/16 inches, Gift of Edward H. Tuck, 2001

The second exhibition currently on view focuses on angling and a glimpse of field sports. Last fall, artist Dale Weiler and his wife, conservationist Loti Wood, generously donated one of his sculptures, as well as a watercolor by his father Milton Weiler (American, 1910-1974). The subject of both the watercolor, Matapedia Magic, and the sculpture, In Your Dreams, is fishing. These serve as a pleasant introduction for the next gallery, which feature paintings by Frank Weston Benson (American, 1862-1951) and Ogden Minton Pleissner (American, 1905-1983).

(left) Milton C. Weiler, Matapedia Magic, 1968 watercolor, 30 x 37 inches, Gift of Loti Woods and Dale Weiler, 2019; (right) Dale Weiler, In Your Dreams, cast 2009 bronze, 11 x 21 x 20 inches, Gift of Loti Woods and Dale Weiler, 2019

Within this gallery are five paintings thoughtfully donated by two different collectors, a private collector and Mrs. Frederic C. Hamilton. Made up of both oil on canvas and watercolors, the mediums add to the tone of the scenes. The thicker application of oils on Pleissner’s Heavy Water, St. John contribute further build-up to the moment of anticipation. If the brushstrokes had been lighter or looser, it could completely change the painting’s emotional charge. Likewise, the serene colors in Benson’s watercolor Lower Camp Pool provide a peaceful, almost lazy, mood. Amongst the angling artworks is a wingshooting scene, a watercolor by Benson in beautiful calming shades of blue.

From left to right: Ogden Minton Pleissner, Heavy Water, St. John, 20th century watercolor, 19 x 30 inches, Gift from a Private Collection, 2020; Ogden Minton Pleissner, Fisherman on the George Pool, 20th century watercolor on paper, 18 x 28 inches, Gift from a Private Collection, 2020; Ogden Minton Pleissner, The Bridge Pool, Ballynahinch, 20th century oil on canvas, 24 x 40 inches, Gift from a Private Collection, 2020; Frank W. Benson, Lower Camp Pool, 1928 oil on canvas, 32 x 40 inches, Gift from a Private Collection, 2020; and Frank W. Benson, Setting Out, 1926 watercolor on paper, 18 3/4 x 28 3/4 inches, Gift of Mrs. Frederic C. Hamilton, 2020

Along with the Weiler artworks, these paintings also highlight a theme of conservation. They were all (except for the sculpture) created during the mid-20th century when there seemed to be a nostalgia for the countryside and a yearning for nature. These paintings remind us to absorb what Mother Earth has to give us: to appreciate her abundance, yet leave no trace that we’ve visited.

In Bronze: Herbert Haseltine is only on view until the end of summer so be sure to see this unique exhibition of ten (!!!!) Haseltine sculptures all in one place. To purchase tickets and view our new safety requirements, please visit our website (click here).

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

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