Polo Players Weathervane

William Hunt Diederich

(Hungary, 1884 - New York, 1953)
Wrought iron and sheet iron 218.4 x 116.8 x 59.7 cm (86 x 46 x 23.5 in.) Circa 1926

William Hunt Diederich’s fascination with animals, which remained strong throughout his career, developed from his childhood encounters with the horses, stags, and exotic hounds that inhabited his family’s estate in Hungary. In their physical shape and unique characteristics, the artist found a form analogous to his governing aesthetic philosophy, declaring, “Animals seem to me truly plastic. They possess such supple, unspoiled rhythm.” The graceful lines, fluid movements and inherent nobility of these animals inspired the artist’s distinctive style and resulted in a range of exquisite wrought iron, bronze and paper silhouettes.

At the age of sixteen, after studying for a time in Switzerland, Diederich moved to Boston to live with his maternal grandfather, the painter William Morris Hunt. Enrolled at the venerable Milton Academy, Diederich’s restless, independent nature clashed with the school’s traditional academic environment, and before long he dropped out and headed west, assuming the life of a cowboy on ranches in Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Upon his return to the East Coast in 1906, Diederich began studying sculpture at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; however, after two successful years there, during which he produced animal sculptures inspired by his Western experiences, he was expelled for “improper language.” Together with Paul Manship, a fellow sculptor he had befriended at the academy, he continued his artistic education through extensive travels in Europe. In particular, the young artist was inspired by the examples of Renaissance and Baroque iron work he encountered. With the outbreak of World War I, Diederich returned to the United States, where he settled in New York and began exhibiting his animal-themed works. Many of such themes were met with rave reviews and led to many commissions, including a series of weathervanes for the Central Park Zoo in 1934, replicas of which remain to this day.

Evolving out of his two-dimensional silhouette cutouts, Diederich’s wrought iron pieces combined the decorative with the practical. According to his daughter, Diana Blake, his “work in cast iron was a very important part of his life, perhaps the most important.” No doubt, the artist enjoyed the contrast between the dark, inflexible heaviness of the material and the lively, seemingly weightless designs that ultimately resulted. Embodying these stylistic qualities, this weathervane from the mid-1920s depicts two polo players in the heat of competition. Fully extended from head to tail, one horse is bound at full speed. The other, rearing in pose, pauses for the player to strike the ball. Both players have mallets raised to action and garments billowing in the wind, certainly capturing a rousing moment in the match.

The elongation of forms creates an electrifying sense of dynamism and fluidity, exhibiting both elegance and speed. A complex, interlocking arrangement of streamlined torsos, limbs and heads, these polo players attest to Diederich’s superb use of negative space to create a thoughtful composition and design. Diederich continues his use of negative space in the modernist arches below the players. This arch design both provides balance to the motif above and functions as a “sail” to capture the wind. As a result, the “sail” blows away from the wind direction and rotates the polo players to be playing against the wind. One need only look to the directional markers, initialed for north, east, south and west to determine the direction of a coming storm or change in weather. Overall, this rare example of a complete weathervane by Hunt Diederich superbly exhibits his passion for animals, his unique and intelligent design, his modernist approach and his skill as an iron worker and sculptor. Combined, such characteristics evolve into a weathervane at the apex of sophistication and early American modernism.

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Bernard Goldberg Fine Arts, LLC

"American Art (pre-1950); European Works of Art and Sculpture; Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Paintings"

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