Tuesday, February 18, 2014

HORSE SENSE


Image from a profile of Gustav Manz published in Arts and Decoration
circa 1926 ("A Master Sculptor in Precious Metals")

In the late 19th century, Harlem River Drive was a popular racecourse for horse-drawn carriages. Known as the "Speedway," it ran along the river from 155th Street under the Washington Bridge (not to be confused with the George Washington Bridge, which spans the Hudson and opened in 1931) and up to Dyckman Street.

We don't know if Gustav Manz, who lived in Washington Heights at that time, was fond of betting (his second marriage did take place a few miles from Saratoga). That he was adept at carving equestrian motifs is clear from his business ledgers, which record sales of figural and diamond-studded items to Cartier, Tiffany & Co, Ferdinand Hotz (owner of the Maximilian Diamond), Udall & Ballou, Marcus & Co, Black Starr & Frost, T. B. Starr, Charlton, and Shreve Crump & Low. 


Trotting along the Harlem River, 1903. Postcard image from NYPL

Lucky horseshoes stickpins and brooches were an Edwardian favorite and turn up in Bailey, Banks & Biddle's ledger books, including one manufactured in 1908 by McTeigue, Manz & Co (Walter P. McTeigue and Gustav Manz). An accompanying sketch indicates 25 stones set in a alternating bands of sapphires and diamonds, evoking racing silks.  

The liliputian herd on a circa 1900s ring retailed by jeweler F. Walter Lawrence (shown below), evokes Rosa Bonheur's famous painting depicting the horse market in Paris. Manz's close association with Lawrence, and his own reputation as an animali√®r who often placed his subjects in leafy surrounds, points to him as the likely carver. 


Green-gold and tourmaline ring retailed by F. Walter Lawrence, and here attributed to Gustav Manz, reproducing a scene from Rosa Bonheur's "The Horse Fair" (image from  Sargent, The Keystone, July 1905, p 1073)

Completed in 1855, Bonheur's scene of muscular Percherons barely restrained by their trainers as they circle a plaza was already famous by the time Cornelius Vanderbilt acquired the artwork in 1887 from department store magnate Alexander Turney Stewart and gave it to the Metropolitan Museum the following day. When the Met first opened its doors to the public on Sundays in 1891, the gigantic (8 x 16 1/2 foot!!) painting attracted tens of thousands of visitors. 

The miniature frieze of stallions on the "Horse Fair" ring surely created a minor sensation when a photo of it ran in The Keystone in July 1905, shortly after the opening of Belmont Park. Another equine ring sold to Lawrence, depicting horse and trainer, is recorded Manz's cost book records in summer 1910. Due to anti-gambling legislation targeting horse racing, Belmont and other New York tracks closed that season. Perhaps, that season, Lawrence's customer wore it to Ascot or Longchamp.


Entry in Manz's costbook for a gold and lapis seal ring with "Horse & trainer group" carved on the mounting, sold to F.W. Lawrence on June 2, 1910 
Courtesy Winterthur Museum Library

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Copyright © Laura Mathews, 2014 

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