Nestled into the center of a busy intersection in Caballito, surrounding buildings dwarf a statue of El Cid Campeador by American sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington. Traffic noise also prevents any quiet contemplation of my personal favorite statue… but that can be avoided by going early on Sunday mornings for a look at this fantastic piece of public art, cleaned & restored in 2006:
Anna Hyatt Huntington was a force to be reckoned with. Born in 1876, she had little formal training but managed to make a living & earn recognition for her work in the early 20th century… almost unheard of for a woman of that era. Anyone interested in Huntington’s career should read the transcript of a 1964 interview posted in the Smithsonian Archives of American Art. Fascinating insight. She does not seem very expressive or sentimental about her long & successful career, but her love of animals is easy to read between the lines. She was also committed to detail… probably the aspect I enjoy most about her work. Her sculptures are so lifelike & beautifully capture one moment in time.
The El Cid sculpture resulted from her marriage to Archer Milton Huntington —heir to a railroad fortune, poet, & promoter of Spanish culture. He founded the Hispanic Society of America in New York City in 1904 & the first copy of El Cid was placed there in 1923. Archer Huntington had translated “El Cantar del Mío Cid” & his work inspired Anna to adopt Spanish themes in her sculpture.
Always surrounded by traffic, the original base for the BA copy was different. The 1956 book “Buenos Aires” with photographs from Grete Stern shows an Art Deco base which likely corresponds to the original 1935 placement. No info is available as why the base was changed or when it happened:
When I originally wrote this in 2011, not all sources agreed to the number of El Cid copies & their placement around the world. With four recognized copies in the United States (NYC, San Francisco, San Diego & DC) plus two in Spain (Sevilla, below, & Valencia), it seems like the Buenos Aires version had been forgotten by English language media. There was no mention of the BA copy in Wikipedia or any other source I consulted online… fortunately that has since been corrected. Local Spanish immigrants provided the funding for this particular copy, much like the donation of the Monumento de los Españoles in Palermo. Furthermore, Huntington mentions in her interview that the people of Valencia made their own copy (confirmed in comments). Hopefully there are no more unknown copies out there!
While I confess to being a big fan of Huntington’s work, sometimes your idols let you down. Part of her interview turned out to be disturbing. She was an unashamed supporter of Francisco Franco, saying:
…until this man Franco came in who has given Spain twenty-five years I think now of peace. In spite of the fact that people decry him and all that sort of thing, he’s really been excellent for Spain. It’s the first time they’re had twenty-five years of peace in Spain and more or less prosperity.
Franco even planned to have statues made of the Huntingtons. Although she admits to being very conservative, supporting a dictator is a bit too much. Then again, art isn’t just about the final work displayed to the public… it is also the process & the people behind it.
Update (10 Jun 2011): Continuing to search for information about the BA copy, the Special Collections Research Center at Syracuse University Library has a large archive of personal records donated by Anna Hyatt Huntington. Their speedy reply to my inquiry was encouraging… two photographs of the BA copy are in the archive. One is a full shot of the sculpture with its original base & the other is detail of the inauguration plaque. Although no dates were written on the back of the photos, the engraving on the plaque states:
“El Cid Campeador, Encarnacion del Heroismo y Espiritu Caballeresco de la Raza. Estatua donada por su Autora Anna Hyatt de Huntington, Inaugurada el 13 de Octubre de 1935 por El Centro Argentino de La Union Ibero Americana.“
Yea! A date to work with. The next step would be to comb through local newspapers the day after the unveiling. And surprisingly, there’s nothing in Google about La Unión Iberoamericana… another mystery. Due to copyright & ownership rules, the only way to obtain copies of those two photos is to spend 100 USD for each. I love y’all, but U$S 200 is a bit much. Donations kindly accepted :-)
Update (05 Jun 2012): Thanks to a link from Miguel, the Valencia copy is dated 1964 & was made by none other than Juan de Ávalos. Responsible for a large number of sculptures mainly in Spain, his biggest & most famous work can be found in Valle de los Caídos: a working monastery near El Escorial that houses the tombs of Franco, Fascist/Falange party founder José Antonio Primo de Rivera & some 10,000 soldiers from the Spanish Civil War:
I wonder how he made the copy & who funded it. More questions to be answered!
Also during a recent trip to the Biblioteca Nacional in Argentina, the only article I could find of the statue’s dedication was in the newspaper “El Mundo” on 13 Oct 1935. Oddly enough, they do not mention who donated the statue or Huntington:
Update (26 Nov 2012): Thanks to info provided by a local from Sevilla (see comments), their copy of El Cid is being restored. Excellent news. They also had a webpage dedicated to conservation efforts (no longer online) but their Facebook page has several historic photos of the statue… including a couple from the making of the 1964 Valencia copy! The results are fantastic.
Update (13 Feb 2014): This post has the most updates of any I’ve written! During a recent trip to NYC, I was able to visit the Hispanic Society of America & see the 1923 original in person. Made of a different material, its color matches the hue of surrounding buildings, & the four warriors who accompany El Cid make this version my favorite so far. Its placement is also superior than any other I’ve seen because nearby steps allow for an ideal view.