The art exhibit for which I am attending a reception for is of the Hagans’ family collection of etchings by Swedish artist Anders Zorn. During his prolific career, Zorn sketched many citizens, including Augustus Saint-Gaudens, designer of the early 20th-century U.S. gold $10s and $20s so popular with collectors today.
The interesting thing about Zorn’s etching, which shows Saint-Gaudens with a nude in the background, is the identity of the model. She was Hettie Anderson, a cousin of William Hagans.
William Hagans has found that Hettie Anderson was posing the day of the Zorn etching for Saint-Gaudens’s “Victory” figure at the head of the Sherman Monument in New York.
Over the years, few have doubted that “Victory” was the inspiration for figure on the gold $20. It’s just that several different models were named as likely to be the real model employed by Saint-Gaudens for the coin. Among these were an Irish lass named Mary Cunningham and Saint-Gaudens’ mistress, Davida Clark.
Even Saint-Gaudens’s son, Homer, chimed in that the model could have been a “woman supposed to have negro blood in her veins.” That was Hettie Anderson, who was African-American. Hagans has written extensively on the topic, including his feature, titled “Saint-Gaudens, Zorn, and the Goddesslike Miss Anderson,” which appeared in the Summer 2002 edition of American Art, the journal of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and is reproduced at Hagans’ Web site about Zorn (linked below).
Zorn did etchings or oil paintings of other important Americans, including President Grover Cleveland and Mrs. Grover Cleveland, President William Howard Taft, President Theodore Roosvelt, Andrew Carnegie, and Mrs. Potter Palmer of Chicago (the force behind the 1893 Isabella commemorative quarter).
You can learn more about Zorn and his subjects at the Hagans’ Web site on the topic: www.zorninamerica.com. They also have a section on Zorn and his dealings with Saint-Gaudens. And on the the opening page, you can see the etching of Saint-Gaudens with Hettie Anderson in the background.
Info on the exhibit, which runs from Feb. 6-June 1 at the Amercan Swedish Institute, can be found at: www.americanswedishinst.org/exhibits.htm