Sculptor Herbert Haseltine captured his love of the game in an elegant masterpiece
I write this article not because I claim to be a critic of Herbert Haseltine's art but because I am an admirer of his work. I have lived for some years with a bronze of Haseltine's Monly Waterbury on Cobnut in my drawing room and a bronze of the racehorse Easter Hero at my London club. To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill: 'I might say with greater truth that the horses have lived with me, for they have seemed far more than mere representatives of horses in bronze.'
Herbert Haseltine was an American, born in Rome in 1877. After Harvard University he studied painting and drawing in Germany, Italy and France. He painted and drew what he knew best, and his subjects often reflected his own polo and hunting activities.
He wrote about this period of his work: 'I was unconsciously studying the conformation and movement of horses, which served as a foundation for more serious work iri later years.' In 1905, Haseltine sought advice from the pairiter Aime Morot, who encouraged Haseltine to try sculpture.
He had seen Haseltine's sketch of two polo players galloping after a ball and suggested he should make a model of it one-third life size. Haseltine;s polo-playing friend Pad Rumsey posed as one rider and, not finding a second model, Haseltine 'posed in the mirror tryirig to work at the same time'. The result, Riding Off, was accepted for the 1906 Paris Salon and received an Honourable
Mention as well as orders for replicas.
Commissions for new works followed and included a second bronze called Polo, completed in 1907, a copy of which is on display in a New York club. In 1908 Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, a sculptor herself and patron of the arts, took her husband Harry Payne Whitney to see Haseltirie's work in Paris. The following year Whitney irivited Haseltirie to come to America to execute a group portrait of his Meadowbrook polo team. This team was never defeated and is known as 'The Big Four'. They represented America in the
Westchester Cup against Britain in 1909, 1911 and 1913, winnirig on each occasion.
The Meadowbrook Team MCMIX at the Hurlingham Club is a dark brown patinated bronze sculpture and depicts the players on horseback 18 inches high. It is cast on a bronze base measuring 36 by 24 fiches, mounted on an Italian portor marble plinth. The work is done in the French animalier style with close detailing of the equipment and the anatomy of the horses. The work reveals Haseltine's intimate familiarity with the sport of polo and its elegance. Leading the group of players is Devereux Milburn on The Roan Mare, followed by Harry Whitney on Cotton Tail, Larry Waterbury on Little Mary, and lastly Monty Waterbury on Cobnut.
Haseltine modelled the group at the Whitneys' Long Island estate and the bronzes were cast in 1911 by the Valsuani foundry in Paris using the cire perdue method. There are two surviving castings of this work. One was given by the Whitney family to the Hurlingham Club and is displayed at their clubhouse in London and the other is in a private collection in America. The Racquet and Tennis Club iri New York had on loan iridividual models of the players which were probably maquettes done by Haseltine before he made the final work. These figures were reclaimed by the Whitney Museum several years ago.
Smaller bronzes of the figures of Monty Waterbury and Devereux Milburn were given by the Hurlingham and Meadowbrook clubs to each member of the British and American teams competing for the Westchester Cup in 1921and1924.
The Meadowbrook Team is arguably the greatest polo bronze of all. Churchill praised Haseltine's work as 'a joy to behold. His horses are above all for the delectation of those who, like himself,
have loved and understood horses, and he certainly need fear no adverse criticism from rider or trainer.' Praise indeed from a man who played polo himself and who is remembered for his dictum, 'a polo handicap is your passport to the world'.