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The Flipside with Robert R. Van Ryzin

Zorn Etching a Key
January 29, 2008

February should prove to be a busy and fun month for me. On Feb. 4 I head to Minneapolis for the opening of an art exhibit titled "From Peasants to Presidents: Sweden's Greatest Etcher" and later that month my wife and I have tickets to see Blues legend B.B. King in concert at the Fox Valley Performing Arts Center in Appleton, Wis. Then it's off to the Wisconsin Coin Expos show in Oshkosh, which is always fun and enjoys a good attendance.

The art exhibit for which I am attending a reception for is of the Hagans' family collection of etchings by Swedish artist Anders Zorn. During his prolific career, Zorn sketched many citizens, including Augustus Saint-Gaudens, designer of the early 20th-century U.S. gold $10s and $20s so popular with collectors today.

The interesting thing about Zorn's etching, which shows Saint-Gaudens with a nude in the background, is the identity of the model. She was Hettie Anderson, a cousin of William Hagans.

William Hagans has found that Hettie Anderson was posing the day of the Zorn etching for Saint-Gaudens's "Victory" figure at the head of the Sherman Monument in New York.

Over the years, few have doubted that "Victory" was the inspiration for figure on the gold $20. It's just that several different models were named as likely to be the real model employed by Saint-Gaudens for the coin. Among these were an Irish lass named Mary Cunningham and Saint-Gaudens' mistress, Davida Clark.

Even Saint-Gaudens's son, Homer, chimed in that the model could have been a "woman supposed to have negro blood in her veins." That was Hettie Anderson, who was African-American. Hagans has written extensively on the topic, including his feature, titled "Saint-Gaudens, Zorn, and the Goddesslike Miss Anderson," which appeared in the Summer 2002 edition of American Art, the journal of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and is reproduced at Hagans' Web site about Zorn (linked below).

Zorn did etchings or oil paintings of other important Americans, including President Grover Cleveland and Mrs. Grover Cleveland, President William Howard Taft, President Theodore Roosvelt, Andrew Carnegie, and Mrs. Potter Palmer of Chicago (the force behind the 1893 Isabella commemorative quarter). You can learn more about Zorn and his subjects at the Hagans' Web site on the topic: www.zorninamerica.com. They also have a section on Zorn and his dealings with Saint-Gaudens. And on the the opening page, you can see the etching of Saint-Gaudens with Hettie Anderson in the background. Info on the exhibit, which runs from Feb. 6-June 1 at the Amercan Swedish Institute, can be found at: www.americanswedishinst.org/exhibits.htm



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About the Author
Robert R. Van Ryzin has been a coin collector for 30 years. He has served as editor of Krause Publications Coins and Coin Prices magazines since 1994. He joined the firm in 1986 after obtaining a master of fine arts degree in history from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Prior to becoming a magazine editor, he worked on World Coin News as a staff member and later served as managing editor of Numismatic News. Van Ryzin, whose specialty is U.S. coinage history, is also the award-winning author of the book Crime of 1873: The Comstock Connection (Krause Publications, 2001), as well as two earlier titles, Twisted Tails: Sifted Fact, Fantasy and Fiction from U.S. Coin History (Krause Publications, 1995) and Striking Impressions: A Visual Guide to Collecting U.S. Coins (Krause Publications, 1992).

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