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STYLE : GARDENS : Art of Stone

February 16, 1992|ANNIE KELLY

The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino encompass many different worlds: There's a desert garden with giant cacti. There are Japanese, Australian, subtropical, herb and rose gardens, even a Shakespeare garden of plants favored during Elizabethan times. And quietly anchoring these is an impressive, yet sometimes overlooked, collection of garden statuary.

Purchased during the early 1900s by railroad tycoon Henry Huntington and his wife, Arabella, the sculptures add an element of classicism to the peaceful ambience of the 130-acre grounds. Many remain exactly where the Huntingtons placed them, perhaps nestled among plants or at the end of a winding path. Together, they call to mind an earlier age, when leisurely afternoons were spent strolling or reading in the garden.

One particularly striking group of statues lines the spectacular north vista (left), between the Huntington mansion and an early Italian Baroque fountain of Istrian stone. Most of the 30 or so 17th-Century limestone pieces are from a villa near Padua, Italy, but, unfortunately, little else is known about the allegorical and mythological figures.

Dozens of other works in marble and terra-cotta dot the landscape in a kind of open-air gallery. The loggia of the mansion features four 18th-Century French statues based on limestone originals that can be seen in the Louvre and the Tuileries in Paris. The rococo terra-cotta pieces depict mythological figures, including, appropriately enough, Flora, goddess of flowers, and Hamadryad (right), a tree nymph.

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