Born in Hungary in 1884, William Hunt Diederich spent his childhood on his family’s estate, where his father bred and trained horses for the Prussian Army. Diederich’s mother was American and a member of the prominent Hunt family in Boston, whose relatives included the painter William Morris Hunt and the architect Richard Morris Hunt. Diederich inherited his family’s artistic talents and often made small cutouts of animals as a child. In 1903, Diederich moved to Boston for school but his rebellious impulses interfered with his education and he soon left to venture out west, working as a cowboy in Arizona, Wyoming and New Mexico. The artist’s fascination with animals and the wild landscape are recurring motifs in his oeuvre.
Diederich is frequently characterized as a sculptor because of his preference for ironwork, but he also designed furniture, lamps and ceramics. After a quick stint at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, he traveled around Europe and studied with the renowned animal sculptor Emmanuel Fremiet. In 1910, Diederich’s works were exhibited in the Paris Spring Salons, and in 1913 he participated in the infamous Armory Show in New York. Diederich’s aristocratic upbringing facilitated his early success; wealthy patrons like Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney were immediately interested in commissioning and exhibiting his work.
As a sculptor, Diederich often conceptualized his iron pieces through wax models or sketches, of which this this drawing, Panther Chasing Five Ibex is one. Here Deiderich illustrates a design for a cast iron balustrade that frames five ibexes running down the stairs, away from the panther. The animals are in flight, depicted as if they are about to leap out of their metal enclosure. Notwithstanding the drawing’s exuberance and dynamism, Diederich’s precise strokes invoke the density of iron. His application of silhouetted animal forms recalls his early experimentations with cut-outs. The juxtaposition of industrial materials with natural forms could appear heavy and monumental; however, Diederich’s clever employment of negative space and rhythm evoke a gracefulness that applauds the innate beauty of animals-both predator and prey.
Lily Gildor is a candidate in the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies program offered at Parsons The New School of Design jointly with Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She is a Master’s fellow in the Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design department.