Documental. Una historia de la Hispanic Society


When Archer Huntington was creating
the Hispanic Society, he was doing so at a moment when
Spanish art was not in the other great collections in New York the primary focus. ‘Why do you want to study a dead culture?’ That gives you an idea of what the view of
Spain was at that time and it was even worse after the Spanish-American war. That Spanish-American war put Spain and, interestingly,
Latin American colonial culture back on the radar-screen for America,
and Mr. Huntington was way ahead of that movement. What Huntington did was completely new in
New York. He really brought the whole school the ‘Siglo
de oro’ and then ultimately also the art of Latin America together in a way that demonstrated the extraordinary contribution of those schools to the History of Art. If all of Spain were to disappear today it
would still survive in the Hispanic Society. The origin of the Hispanic Society begins with a 12-year-old boy who travelled to Europe with his mother for the very first time in 1882; and that boy was Archer Milton Huntington. The visits to the Louvre and the British Museum
made him absolutely fall in love with museums. He even wrote in his diary that he would love
to live in a museum. He bought a book from an out-of-print-rare-book
dealer and it was that book that actually started his interest and passion for Hispanic
culture. He travelled to Spain several times but he
actually spent ten years studying everything he could on Spain before he travelled there
for the first time. Before he was even 30 years old he was working
on a translation of the epic ‘Poema del mío Cid’ which he did publish in three
separate volumes. He told his father that he did not want to
manage the Newport ship-yards and he then set about establishing plans for a museum
and a library. By 1900, at the age of 30, his father died
and with the death of his father he had a lot more resources and he could actually start
planning what he really had in vision for his life. Archer Huntington had in mind a separate museum. The whole idea was to have the entire focus
of one institution on Spanish art and its legacy across the world. When the time came in 1904 that he felt that
he was ready to establish the Hispanic Society, land was purchased at 155th street and Broadway,
in Upper Manhattan. He probably chose the location because he
was familiar with it maybe through his mother because his mother already owned a portion
of the land that is today the Audubon Terrace and the other motivation to come to this part of Manhattan was most likely due to the number one subway-line opening in 1904 that ran all the way up to the Hispanic Society at that time. The interior of the Hispanic Society was based on, it’s very distinctive, it is all in fired terracotta. The designs are based on the Vélez Blanco patio that is today at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He married his second wife who was Anna Hyatt and Ana Hyatt Huntington had in her earlier life been an extremely successful woman sculpture in the United States. She began work on the monumental statue of el Cid which dominates the terrace and other designs were created to complement all the sculptures out there. Through probably Sorolla it came to the attention
of Alfonso XIII, and Alfonso XIII realized the importance of the Hispanic Society as
a way to foster an image of Spain, a positive image of Spain abroad for its culture and
one of the fruits of this is that in 1917, during World War I, the Royal Collections
of Tapestry were exhibited at the Hispanic Society and this is a testament to the relationship
between Alfonso XIII and Huntington. Mr. Huntington sponsored two separated exhibition-campaigns for Sorolla in the United States. The first one was in 1909 where 168,000,000
people visited the Society in February in order to see Sorolla’s works. Sorolla’s paintings were so full of life and so bright it literally changed the impression
in New York of Spain at that time. In fact it even wrote in the press, they said
that, you know, ‘brought Spain back up to an estimable position’.
It had changed the view of it. His collecting seriously for the museum
began around 1900 and he had already studied everything he possibly could through photographs, at that time. Everyone has to remember that there were not colored art books like there are today, it was much more difficult study material and there was a lot less published on Spanish art so you really had to be familiar with it. He visited the Prado extensively, studied everything he could and he personally really selected everything that he bought. From the very beginning he had a specific plan on how he wanted to collect and that was basically breaking all creative facets of Hispanic culture into categories and he was going to collect everything in the decorative arts. He collected prints and photographs. He collected medals, he collected paintings, he collected sculpture and for the library his great interest was really on rare books and manuscripts. The photographs that the Hispanic Society commissioned directly from its staff members, they reflected first-hand what Huntington wanted ‒the genuine Spain. The most famous of the photographers was Ruth Anderson. The photography collection, just like the prints, is interrelated with the other holdings, in this case with the museum department, in other cases with the library and it shows again how the unity of the vision Huntington had or what he wanted documented is visible throughout the whole collection. In 1902 he had the fortune, good fortune, of being able to buy the library of the Marqués de Jerez de los Caballeros in Seville which was the most important private library in Spain at that time focused on Early Spanish Literature, which also had a few manuscripts in it. That really gave the originally core of the rare books and manuscripts collection. Huntington developed a relationship with a rare-book dealer in Leipzig, Germany, Karl Hiersemann, who was one of the major rare-book, manuscript-dealers in Europe and it was that relationship that led to about ten years of collecting almost exclusively through Hiersemann. Within a-ten-year period, about 1905 till 1914, the onset on World War I, which stopped the relationship with Hiersemann, Huntington collected tens of thousands of manuscripts. In fact, several hundreds of thousands of manuscripts though Hiersemann and thousands and thousands of rare books which really built up what the Hispanic Society’s library collection is today. ‘Where does the Hispanic Society rank or fit in the museum-world of New York?’ I would say it is probably a combination of the Frick Collection and the Morgan Library. In other words, collections that are rarefied-focused and at the same time augmented by great research centers of libraries, manuscripts and so forth. Huntington had a general policy from early on of not collecting early art directly out of Spain. His views were that the work should stay where they were, they should not be taken out, for as of other American collectors were buying directly out of Spain in the late 19th and early 20th century but Huntington bought primarily from dealers in Paris, London and New York. Where else will you find three works and great works by Velazquez in one institution? There are very few museums in the world. Even the Louvre does not have three works by Velázquez. One should not wonder, in fact, how it was possible in 1904 to create such a vast collection, historical collection, of works from primarily Spain and Latin America. One has to remember that the entire museum-history is not much more than 200 years old, so 1904 is pretty much in the middle point between the start of museums with the Louvre in 1793 and today. So an entire century, the 20th century, was available for the acquisition of a great many works of art that had not yet entered collections or museums because museums were still pretty much in their adolescence at that time. Over the past fifteen years we have had a particular focus on buying colonial Latin American works to build up that collection, because when Huntington was collecting himself there was very little on the market. He did buy certain colonial things like Talavera Poblana pottery from Mexico, but it was quiet limited otherwise. Archer Huntington was a great philanthropist. In fact he was a philanthropist
to a fault to a certain extent because by the time he died he’d essentially given away everything. His wife, Anna Hyatt Huntington,
still had sufficient resources to live comfortably to an old age, but he had basically given everything away by that point. He helped found three institutions in Spain: the Casa de Cervantes, the Museo Romántico and the Casa-Museo de El Greco. He had already been involved in a major way with other institutions in New York, such as the American Museum of Natural History. He sponsored a lot of scientific expeditions. One was the expedition to Machu Picchu that led to the discovery of it. Huntington really sought anonymity. He did not want to create a foundation that wore his name for eternity like the Rockefellers and the Fords and others. He really was a true philanthropist
that basically gave away the money because he wanted it to go to his very specific good purpose, for the public good. The wonders of this institution is its aura, is the manner in which the works of art are represented. The Hispanic Society Museum and Library is a collection that could never be recreated today.

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