The reappearance of this picture, unlined and in remarkably original condition, returns one of Agasse's most important works to his extant oeuvre. In this monumental canvas, depicting no fewer than sixteen hounds in a kennel, he deploys both the anatomical knowledge and the sheer sensitivity that made him one of the greatest sporting painters of his generation in England, arguably second only to his predecessor George Stubbs.
Born in Geneva to a patrician family of Huguenot origin, Agasse trained in his hometown before moving to Paris in 1786 to complete his artistic education in the studio of Jacques-Louis David, while also studying anatomy and dissection. The outbreak of the French Revolution put an end to his French sojourn and he was back in Geneva in 1789. Soon after his return, he made an acquaintance that would be crucial to his career in the person of George Pitt (1751-1828), later 2nd Baron Rivers of Stratfield Saye. A personal friend of the Prince of Wales and a keen sportsman, Lord Rivers became Agasse's first and most influential patron. After a short stay in England with Lord Rivers in 1790, and certainly encouraged by his benefactor, Agasse settled in London in 1800, with the ambition of establishing himself as a prominent sporting painter catering to wealthy aristocrats. By capitalising on Lord Rivers's connections and patronage, Agasse secured his first commissions, such as the portrait of Gayglass, a black mare belonging to E.H. Delne-Radcliffe, racing manager to the Prince of Wales.
Similarly, Lord Rivers introduced Agasse to his rakish nephew George Lane Fox (1793-1848) of Bramham Park, West Yorkshire. Nicknamed 'the Gambler', the latter's main interests lay in hunting and racing, and though he served as Member of Parliament for Beverley from 1820 to 1826, and later from 1837 to 1840, his notoriety mostly derived from the swift decline of his fortune and his troubled marital life with the extravagant Georgiana Buckley. It seems that Lane Fox first came into possession of works by Agasse when he was bequeathed a group by Lord Rivers in 1828. These included one of the painter's most celebrated pictures, Two Leopards playing in the Exeter 'Change Menagerie, (Christie's, London, 15 July 1988, lot 35). Lane Fox further commissioned Agasse with a replica of his 1818 Lord Rivers on horseback, a picture that still hangs at Bramham today. It is around that time, in the mid-1830s, that one of the painter's early biographers, C.H. Hardy, places a visit that Agasse paid to Lane Fox at Bramham, notably to admire the estate's kennels. The present picture, recorded under the year 1837 in the artist's manuscript Record Book, probably relates, along with another dating from the year before, to this excursion, and depicts Lane Fox's famous pack of foxhounds. It remains unknown whether it was commissioned or owned by Lane Fox.
While the earlier painting, also of the highest calibre but more modest in size, focuses on only four dogs, Agasse greatly expanded his original composition in this work, achieving exceptional monumentality and grandeur. Contrasting with the lively animation of the group beyond, the solemnity of the hound in the foreground commands the viewer's attention. At his feet, a resting hound offers his elegant profile. The artist succeeds in conveying the animals' characters, justifying the praise from his younger contemporary Edwin Landseer: 'he paints animals like none of us can'. This late and ambitious composition shows a mature painter in full command of his skills.
We are grateful to Renée Loche for her assistance in cataloguing this lot, confirming it to be a documented composition by Agasse, and establishing the connection with the painter's visit to Bramham Park.