Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, R.A. (1802-1873)
The Property of a Gentleman of Title
Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, R.A. (1802-1873)

Otter Hunting

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, R.A. (1802-1873)
Otter Hunting
oil on canvas
58 x 94¼ in. (147 x 239.4 cm.)
Sir Edwin Landseer (+); Christie's, London, 8 May 1874, lot 131, as 'Digging out the Otter' (610 gns to Agnew).
E.J. Coleman; Christie's, London, 28 May 1881, lot 51, as 'Digging Out the Otter in the Valley of the Tay, figures finished by J.E. Millais (unsold).
with Leggatt Brothers, London.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 17 March 1971, lot 59, illustrated. where purchased by the present owner.
A. Graves, Catalogue of the Works of the late Sir Edwin Landseer, R.A., London, 1876, p. 28 (incorrectly dated to 1847).
J.G. Millais, The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais, President of the Royal Academy, London, 1899, II, p. 47.
Connoiseur, May 1957.
Connoiseur, March 1966.
R. Ormond, Sir Edwin Landseer, Philadelphia, 1981, p. 186.
London, Royal Academy, The Works of Sir Edwin Landseer, R.A., 1874, no. 235, as 'Digging out the Otter: unfinished', lent by Executors of Sir E. Landseer.

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Lot Essay

Digging out the Otter was the first incarnation of a subject commissioned by George, 4th Earl of Aberdeen in 1838. The Otter Speared, the Earl of Aberdeen's Otterhounds (fig.1) was the completed outcome of this commission and was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1844. It depicts an otter speared and held aloft by a huntsman surrounded by a pack of baying hounds. This dramatic depiction of the climax of the hunt relies on a simple pyramid-shaped composition and shows Landseer's knowledge of hunting scenes by Rubens.

Digging out the Otter depicts a far less brutal aspect of the hunt, but it is imbued with tense anticipation as the huntsmen and hounds gather around the otter's refuge at the waters edge. Particular details of the picture reflect the instructions given to Landseer by the 4th Earl who in a letter of 27 November 1838, suggested that the introduction of a pony would 'help to tell the story' and the scene would be set not 'in a great landscape' but on 'a bit of broken bank of river'. Landseer worked on the subject during 1839, and by 1841, with the picture well advanced, he was at the Earl's seat at Haddo in Aberdeenshire, most probably to make sketches of his hounds. By October, however, the Earl had suggested to Landseer that the picture be of 'small dimensions' but noted that two pictures might be painted. It is possible that this suggestion prompted Landseer to develop a spearing scene as a sequel to Digging out the Otter.

Digging out the Otter remained unfinished in the artist's studio at the time of his death and under the instruction of his executors John Everett Millais was commissioned to 'finish' several works prior to their exhibition at his posthumous exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1874 and subsequent studio sale at Christie's later that year.

We are grateful to Richard Ormond, and Jason Rosenfeld, Distinguished Chair and Professor of Art History, Marymount Manhattan College, New York, for their help in preparing this catalogue entry.

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