Edward Kemeys is widely considered the first American sculptor to focus on the depiction of animals. An entirely self-taught artist, Kemeys is thought to have begun sculpting while working as a civil engineer in the construction of Central Park where, in 1868, he was inspired by a German artist modeling the head of a wolf (Francis E. Kent, Artists in Amboy (Perth Amboy, New Jersey, 1925), p. 16). During his career, Kemeys produced several important public works including The Wolves in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park, Still Hunt in New York's Central Park, and the two standing lions flanking the entrance to the Art Institute of Chicago.
This sculpture was most likely a privately commissioned portrait of a prized pet bloodhound named 'Hereward.' 'Hereward' bears a striking resemblance to another privately commissioned work Kemeys completed for the Cornelius Vanderbilt II Stables, which once stood at 44 East 58th Street (fig. 1). In 1880, Kemeys added sculptural embellishments to the facade of the stables including the central bust of a bloodhound known as 'Brutus' (Christopher Gray, "An Elaborate Stable Fit for a Vanderbilt" The New York Times, April 6, 2008).
Kemeys maintained a close working relationship with the Perth Amboy Terracotta Company. Terracotta production flourished in America at the end of the 19th Century and the Perth Amboy Terracotta Company in New Jersey became the industry leader. Founded in 1873, the Company owned and operated forty-six kilns on the Perth Amboy waterfront where the rich clay deposits yielded high quality terracotta (Richard Veit and Mark Nonestied, "Taken for Granite: Terracotta Gravemakers from New Jersey and New York," Ceramics in America, 2003 (Chipstone Foundation, 2003), p. 2).
Hereward's distinctive name is probably a reference to Hereward the Wake, an 11th century soldier who played a celebrated role in the Anglo-Saxon resistance of Norman rule in England. He gained immediate fame after his courageous involvement in the siege of the Isle of Ely in 1070 and his subsequent escape. Hereward the Wake remained a famed folk hero in England throughout the Middle Ages and rose to popularity again in the 19th century in Charles Kingsley's 1886 romantic novel, Hereward the Wake (David Roffe, "Hereward," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004), http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/13074).