Herbert Haseltine (American, 1877 - 1962)
Born in Rome of American parents, Haseltine studied first there, then in Paris and London. He trained for a while at the Academy Julien in Paris which offered a radically different training from many of his contemporaries. While movements like Cubism and abstraction were breaking down from normative ideas of appearance and conventional beauty; he became obsessed with the notion of ‘perfection’. This initially led to his sculpture of an ideal thoroughbred horse, distilling elements from a range of horses. There followed the series of English Champion Animals which preoccupied him from 1921 to 1933.
These were originally commissioned by the Marshall Field Museum in Chicago, at one third life-size, and two smaller versions were also subsequently edited. Haseltine was making art from examples of nature which were already aesthetically adapted by man: he was creating thoroughbred art.
Haseltine’s early style was much influenced by fin-de-siecle impressionistic sculptors such as Troubetzkoy, but his style became increasingly refined and
controlled, involving long processes of re-working and honing models. One of his most familiar and renowned sculptures is the head of a ‘Suffolk Punch’, (a horse called ‘Sudborne Premier’), as well as being a masterful evocation of equestrian vitality, is a complex and sophisticated aesthetic statement. Nature and artifice interact here on many levels (note most obviously the dressed mane). Haseltine’s influential early visits to the British Museum inform the work deeply, not only with Egyptian traits which are often commented on in connection with his work, but also in terms of echoes from the Parthenon Frieze (The Elgin Marbles) and the famous Assyrian hunting reliefs.
It is interesting to note that out of all the sculptures that Haseltine modelled in the ‘British Champion Animals ‘Sudborne Premier’ perhaps impressed him most and was the subject he most enjoyed working on.
‘The moment I saw Sudborne Premier, the magnificent Stallion of that famous
breed of Chestnuts, all my troubles were forgotten and my only thought was to get to work’.
Bull striking a picador's horse, 1921
25 x 35 cm
9 3/4" x 13 3/4"
(height x length x depth)