The Huntington | Art Collections

Legacy of railroad and real estate businessman Henry Edwards Huntington, his wife Arabella and their common love for the arts and literature, the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is another Los Angeles institution, alongside the Getty.

We skipped the Library in favour of the Art Collections and Gardens and in the coming days, you will see some of the reasons why.

Beginning with Mrs. Arabella Huntington, herself.
Portrait of Arabella Huntington, 1924 by Sir Oswald Birley (1880-1952)
Oil on canvas

Most famous for his portraits of the British royal family, here Birley unflinchingly renders the stern expression, direct gaze and strong, unidealized features of Arabella Huntington, founder, with her husband Henry, of the Huntington Art Collections. The portrait dates to the year of Arabella’s death, at a time when she was not only one of the richest women in the world, but also among America’s foremost art collectors. Shrouded entirely in black and seated before a nebulous backdrop, she reveals little of herself, presenting an impressive and enigmatic figure.


While the Huntingtons did not use all the furniture in their collection (some pieces were considered too precious), they did use these chairs. Look for Arabella Huntington sitting on one of them in her portrait. These chairs are upholstered in luxurious tapestries, a tupe of textile woven on a loom using thousands of short threads to create multicoloured scenes. Tapestries are heavy and robust, making them ideal for insulating walls and upholstering furniture. In the 18th century it would have been considered rude to sit on chair seats depicting human figures. Instead, these seats feature animal fables, fights and hunts. Allegories of the Arts and Sciences fill the chair backs with cupids and little boys while each chair crest displays motifs that match the corresponding allegory.  There are two of 93 carpets originally created to adorn Louis XIV’s palace in Paris. Designed to form one continuous decorative scheme, all 93 carpets would measure about 480 yards in lenght, or 4 football fields. In the 25 years it took to complete these carpets, the king had moved his court to Versailles. With no need for them in his new home, some were given away as diplomatic gifts. 


Sabine Houdon at four years old
Maker: Unidentified; after Jean-Antoine Houdon
Date: 1800-1900


Adam and Eve
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)
Engraving, 1504

Like the tiny mountain goat perched on the cliff in the background, Adam and Eve, along with the animals surrounding them, narrate a story of the precariously balanced equilibrium in Paradise just before the Fall. Each animal represents one of the four temperaments, or humours, of mankind: cat (choleric), hare (sanguine), ox (phlegmatic) and elk (melancholic). According to medieval theory, the Fall upset the natural balance and man’s soul suffered the contamination of bodily humours. 


La Tricoteuse endormi (Young Knitter Asleep)
Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805)
Oil on canvas, ca. 1759


Head of a Cherub
Louis-Claude Vassé (1716-72)


The Huntington

July 16th, 2017

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