James Ogilvy Fairlie was born in Calcutta on 10th October 1809. His father was known as 'The Prince of Merchants' and to this day there is a street named Fairlie Place in the business district of Calcutta. Commissioned into the 2nd Life Guards, Fairlie resigned his commission on becoming a captain and inherited the family estate of Coodham in Ayrshire. He married first, Anne Macleod of Macleod and on her death, married secondly Elizabeth Houison-Crauford of Craufordland. He had six sons and three daughters; three of his sons were Captains of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews.
Fairlie took over the command of the Ayrshire Yeomanry as a Lieutenant Colonel and was subsequently succeeded by the Earl of Eglington and Winton. He had been friends of the Earl for many years and was the principal organiser of the Eglington Tournament in 1839. This was an elaborate and spectacular recreation of a medieval tournament that attracted a crowd of one hundred thousand, including Louis Napoleon and 'the very elite of the most elite', according to the Court Journal.
Fairlie, aged 30, was one of thirteen knights who jousted with one another, calling himself Knight of the Golden Lion and with a costumed retinue of thirty-four that would have included his grooms Cooper and John Jennay seen in the picture.
The horses in this picture were the three principal steeplechasers in Fairlie's stables. Wing was named after the Buckinghamshire village where a deer was taken on an extraordinary run with Mr de Burgh's Staghounds.
James Ogilvy Fairlie died on 5th December 1870 and is buried in the churchyard of Symington Parish Church, Ayrshire.
The leading artist of hunting subjects of his day, Ferneley exhibited twenty-two pictures at the Royal Academy, four at the British Institution, and thirteen at Suffolk Street between 1806 and 1853. The present work was commissioned by the sitter in 1839 and at 50 guineas was, at the time, amongst the artist's most expensive commissions.