Wilhelm Hunt Diederich
(Hungary, 1884 - 1953, Nyack, New York)
William Hunt Diederich was born in Hungary on May 3, 1884. (1) His father, Colonel Ernest Diederich, raised horses for the Prussian cavalry. His mother, Elinor Morris Hunt, was the daughter of the American painter William Morris Hunt and niece of the architect Richard Morris Hunt. Though Diederich's father died when he was three, the family continued to live in Hungary until 1900 when they moved to Boston to live with Diederich's grandfather, William Morris Hunt. In Boston, Diederich was enrolled in a private academy but was eventually expelled because of his "high spirits". Unperturbed, he traveled west and worked as a cowboy in Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming.
Diederich returned to Boston in 1906 and began to take classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts where he became friends with the sculptor Paul Manship. In 1907, his first two works were publicly exhibited. He traveled to Spain in 1908 and upon his return found he had been expelled from the Academy of Fine Arts though no reason was given. Diederich resumed his travels, visiting Africa and Europe, and eventually settling in Paris where he launched his artistic career by exhibiting at the Spring Salon in 1910. During his stay in Paris, he studied for a short period at the Academie Julian with Emmanuel Fremiet and briefly also in Rome. In 1911, Diederich married Maruschka (Mary de Anders), a Russian artist of Scandinavian descent whom he had met in Paris several years earlier. At the Salon d'Automne in 1913 he exhibited a large group entitled Levriers or Greyhounds (c. 1913) which met with critical acclaim and was purchased by Baron Robert de Rothschild who later became a friend. It is the history of this sculpture that is the source of one of the most commonly reported Diederich stories. In 1916, Diederich submitted Greyhounds and another sculptural group to the National Academy of Design annual exhibition; both pieces were rejected. As a statement of protest, Diederich and friends took Greyhounds to Central Park in the middle of the night and installed it on an empty pedestal. The Park police badly damaged the piece when they tried to remove it the following morning, but the publicity from the stunt proved useful to Diederich.
Soon after this episode, Diederich's reputation as a sculptor and decorative artist began to grow. In the fall of 1917 he had an exhibition of his metal work, mostly wrought iron and brass ornaments, in the studio of a New York decorator. Early on Diederich produced these metal objects himself but by the twenties he was having them produced by the Art Metal and Iron Company (or AMICO), a Manhattan metalworking firm. Diederich's first one-man exhibition of his sculpture and decorative works opened at the Kingore Galleries in New York in 1920. Diederich also participated in two group exhibitions in the early 1920s, one at the Joseph Brummer Gallery (Modern Artists in America) and the other at American Galleries (Salons of America). In addition to these exhibitions, Diederich entered four works in the Salon d'Automne in Paris in 1922. Diederich's personal life also saw changes during this period. He divorced Maruschka in 1922 and the following year married the daughter of a Prussian military attaché, Countess Wanda von Goetzen. Relations between the families remained friendly, however, and Diederich often divided his time between them.
In the middle 1920s, Diederich became interested in ceramic art after learning to make pottery during a trip to Morocco. Several of his works won awards for design and craftsmanship from the Architectural League and others were exhibited in the International Exhibition of Ceramic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1928. During the 1930s, Diederich's productivity increased and he moved to Coyoacan, Mexico in 1937. He returned to New York, however, with the beginning of WWII. Diederich had always been staunchly pro-German and by the late 1940s he became a full-blown anti-Semite. He was expelled from the National Institute of Arts for mailing anti-Semitic propaganda under the Institute's name and for his other pro-German activities. In addition, charges were filed against him by the Justice Department, though these were later dropped. The combination of these factors destroyed Diederich's reputation. Diederich died on May 14, 1953 in Tappan, New York. In 1984 his daughter, Diana Blake, donated his papers to the Archives of American Art. (2)
(1) The following biographical information has been compiled from two main sources: Janis Conner and Joel Rosenkranz, Rediscoveries in American Sculpture: Studio Works 1893-1939, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1989, pp. 19-26; Susan E. Menconi, Uncommon Spirit: Sculpture in America 1800-1940, Hirschl and Adler Galleries Inc., New York, 1989, pp. 72-73. The Conner and Rosenkranz book is a particularly fruitful source as it is the only major compendium of biographical information on Diederich. Additional sources include Liza Kirwin, "Regional Reports--Mid Atlantic", Archives of American Art Journal 24(4):29-30, 1984 and Mantle Fielding's Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors and Engravers, 2nd edition, Glenn B. Opitz, editor, Apollo Books, New York, 1986, p. 227
(2) Kirwin, 1984, p. 30