This imposing and life-size portrait of a wounded bloodhound and its elderly master was exhibited to considerable acclaim at the British Institution in 1848, a pivotal moment in the artist's career. Ansdell had moved to Kensington in London from Liverpool in 1847 at the time of the painting's execution, and ambitious works such as the present picture increased his reputation in the capital as a leading animal painter to rival his contemporary, Sir Edwin Landseer. Ansdell had already been elected president of the Liverpool Academy 1845-46, and had caught the attention of important local patrons including the 3rd Earl of Sefton. Early success was achieved with such sporting themed works as The Waterloo Coursing Meeting (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, fig.1), painted in 1840 when he was only 25, the first of many works he would exhibit at the Royal Academy over the course of his career.
The Wounded Hound, with its clear emotive narrative, marked a departure for Ansdell into a fashionably sentimental genre of painting, in which he could display his particular ability to portray animals both with precision and appeal. It was painted around the same time as The Combat (Private Collection), his dramatic painting of two stags rutting, exhibited to particular praise at the Royal Academy in 1847 and in direct competition to Landseer's painting of The drive - shooting deer on the pass. The Wounded Hound can also be perceived as a response and tribute to Landseer's success in this field as well as to a Victorian taste for narrative sporting art. With its vivid evocation of the dogs' relationship, and its exquisitely detailed setting, the picture in many ways recalls the atmosphere of Landseer's pivotal work from 1827 of A Scene at Abbotsford (fig. 2), a depiction of Sir Walter Scott's deerhounds in his house in the Scottish borders, surrounded by the writer's sporting and historical paraphernalia.
Notably, Landseer did not exhibit at the British Institution in 1848, instead showing several works at the Royal Academy, including a dramatisation of the story of Alexander and Diogenes (fig. 3) as dogs. In contrast, The Wounded Hound reveals a preoccupation with the relationship of dogs not only to themselves but also to people, and in that sense the painting is less anthropomorphised than Alexander and Diogenes. Nonetheless, both works show-cased the comparable skill with which the respective artists painted their subjects, with a similar attention to detail, from the sheen and texture of the dogs' coats, to the beautifully realised still lives in the background.
The Wounded Hound was described in The Art Journal of 1849 in terms of its dramatic as well as artistic merits: '[The picture] represents a noble bloodhound, whose foot has been injured, submitting it to the careful attentions of an old man...A huge rough deerhound also sits by and howls most piteously as in sympathy with his unfortunate companion. The remaining dramatis personae are a little girl, whose interest is strongly excited by the scene before her, and a small terrier dog...The picture is painted with great power, the incident well told, and the figures, which are life-size, have evidently been carefully studied from nature. Mr Ansdell is, without question, one of the best animal painters of the day...'. Sarah Kellam has suggested that it is likely that the dogs may have been the artist's own, observing also that the old man featured in the work was a favourite model for Ansdell, appearing in other works, but whose identity has since been lost.
Another contemporary critic remarked retrospectively that 'During this and the previous year, Ansdell had never painted better work, and probably never would; The Wounded Hound is decidedly the best of all'. It proved such a popular image that steel engravings were produced for the mass market by W.T. Davey in 1849, and it was even reproduced on a Colman's mustard tin of the period. Ansdell's growing commercial success and popularity was mirrored by his election as an A.R.A. in 1861 and R.A. in 1870. Although based in London from 1847 to 1884, a year before his death, he also owned a house in Lytham, Lancashire, and a lodge on Loch Laggan where he painted numerous Highland scenes and indulged in sporting pursuits that in turn inspired his art.
The Wounded Hound is first recorded as being in the possession of James Eden, of Fairlawn, Lytham. A wealthy industrialist from Bolton, he built Fairlawn in 1846 on what was the most exclusive location west of the centre of Lytham looking out to the coast in the direction of what would later become Blackpool. It is likely that he purchased the painting from Ansdell to decorate his new mansion shortly after its exhibition at either the British Institution in 1848 or at Grundy's Gallery in Regent Street, 1849. Eden would form a life-long friendship with the artist, encouraged no doubt by the close proximity of their houses in Lytham.
Some years later the painting was acquired from the estate of James Eden by Thomas Miller, an influential cotton manufacturer and art collector from Preston, Lancashire. In his biography of the artist, Arthur Todd records an anecdote relayed by Miller's wife regarding the collector's life-long fascination with The Wounded Hound: 'When Mr T.H. Miller was a boy, he used to go with his father to visit a Mr Eden, a friend of his father's...This picture of The Wounded Hound was at the time in Mr Eden's Collection. Whilst Mr Miller's father and Mr Eden were chatting together, the boy was left very much to his own resources, and amused himself by looking at the picture and watching the water dripping from the sponge in the man's hand. It fascinated him to see the continual dripping without the sponge becoming dry'. (op. cit., p.36).
Miller recognised in The Wounded Hound Ansdell's exceptional ability to dramatise a moment in time with a particular sense of its immediacy. It became an important addition to his prestigious collection of 19th Century British art that was later sold on his death at Christie's on 26 April, 1946. As well as two other paintings by Ansdell from around the same period in the artist's career (The Wolf Slayer, 1849, and Two Wolfhounds, 1849), the collection also included particularly fine works by Landseer, Ward, Frith (with whom Ansdell often collaborated), Millais, Constable, Bonington, and Turner. Unusually for sales of that time, given the superb quality of Miller's collection, several of the pictures were illustrated.
We are grateful to Sarah Kellam, née Ansdell, for her assistance with this catalogue entry.