Charles Wellington Furse (1868-1904)
Charles Wellington Furse (1868-1904)

With the York and Ainsty - The Children of Mr Edward Lycett Green, M.F.H.

Charles Wellington Furse (1868-1904)
With the York and Ainsty - The Children of Mr Edward Lycett Green, M.F.H.
oil on canvas
82 x 113 in. (208.9 x 287.8 cm.)
Commissioned by Sir Edward Lycett Green, 1904, and thence by descent.
Ken Hill sale; Christie's, London, 13 September 1999, lot 619, where purchased by the present owner.
‘The Royal Academy – Landscapes and Portraits’, The Morning Post, 9 May 1905, p. 4.
F. Rinder, ‘Royal Academy – First Notice’, The Daily News, 29 April 1905, p. 4.
Pall Mall Magazine, August 1905, illustrated as Frontispiece.
Burlington Fine Arts Club, Illustrated Memoir of Charles Wellington Furse ARA, with Critical Papers and Fragments …, London, 1908, n.p., illustrated.
M. Girouard 'The Home of Sir Stephen and Lady Lycett Green', Country Life, 28 December 1967, p. 1707, illustrated.
London, Royal Academy, 1905, no. 1904.
London, Burlington Fine Arts Club, Memorial Exhibition, 1906, no. 1.

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Lot Essay

In his note on Impressionism, published in the Albemarle Magazine in August 1892, Charles Wellington Furse was one of the first to insist on ‘feeling’ at the expense of vision. ‘It is not the painter’s business’, he declared, ‘to record what he sees, but to suggest what he feels, for the poetry of nature lies in its suggestiveness and in its delicate capacity of adapting itself to the varying moods of its devotees’. ‘Pictures’, he contended, ‘are never interesting as a journalist’s catalogue of facts, but as an appeal to the imagination from the mind of the painter’.

As a statement of principle this comes at a time when artists and their publics were struggling with the new forms of expression. Furse much preferred spontaneity and intuition to evidence of the ‘tortuous means whereby that expression has been arrived at’. Britain, in short, must get beyond Ruskinian Pre-Raphaelitism, with its myopic insistence on cataloguing the surfaces of nature. One must escape the crushing weight of matter for the more fluid state of mind. Why then, is a seemingly conventional, quintessentially English picture of children attending a hunt, interesting? How can it be said to live up to the claims of its author, and what, if anything, does it have to do with his beliefs? There was no doubt at the time of its exhibition in 1905 that Furse’s young riders were, in the words of one critic, ‘portrayed in a manner no less forcible than personal’ and that his picture was ‘instinct with masterly power’. They were, according to another reviewer, taken ‘with finely disciplined strength, direct from life sources’. And while the artist’s proximity to Sargent was noted, there was no doubt about the painter’s originality. As Furse was keen to point out, his generation may break with the immediate past, but they traced their lineage back to the Spanish and Dutch masters of the 17th Century, and the English of the 18th Century.

The work in question, With the York and Ainsty, represents four of the five children of Edward Lycett Green, M.F.H., with the Master and hounds in the background. The picture was commissioned by the children’s grandfather. Their father assumed Mastership of the York and Ainsty in 1886, held the position for 23 seasons, and was generally credited with bringing stability following the Hunt’s chequered early history.

Three letters referring to the commission have survived. The first, undated, quotes Furse’s terms and states that he will be ‘delighted to do your grandchildren as you suggest’ and adds:

… a group always appeals to me a great more than a single portrait – I am sure we could scheme a pleasant picture in the times you suggest… I suppose you suggest a life size group? Couldn’t some of the children be on ponies? It makes such a delightful thing to deal with and I think the fact things I have best drawn have been equestrian portraits in some form or another.

Although Furse would normally charge ‘700’ for a painting of three figures, he indicates that they can come to ‘a private arrangement that would eventually suit us’. This was agreed and by the summer of 1904 the artist could report to his wife, Katherine:

The picture moves, and the children are almost finished, and today I get a bay horse into the room, and hope to get ahead with that. It is exciting, as he will have to mount half a dozen steps, and I am a little alarmed lest he will put an erring hind leg through the canvas. I am staying on to finish as far as maybe – the hounds and bay horse and the head of the little girl’s horse, part of which shows. Two hounds will come in the foreground.

The bay horse evidently modelled for the boys’ horses as well as Phyllis Mary Lycett Green’s, in striking contrast to her sister Nancy’s elegant gray.

It was not clear from Furse’s first letter if he had been quoting in pounds or guineas. The latter was evidently considered normal for when the bill was settled in January 1905, Sir Edward wrote a cheque for 600 guineas (£630). In her letter of thanks to Furse’s final patron, Katherine Furse approves the title under which the picture would be shown at the Royal Academy and concludes:

I always feel grateful to you for all the pleasure painting this picture gave to Charles. I think he was more pleased with it than any other.

The artist, who suffered from tuberculosis, had died in the interim. In what passes for a eulogy of Furse’s strengths and the ‘irrevocable loss’ suffered to British Art suffered by his death, Frank Rinder reviewed With the York and Ainsty at the Academy. ‘Here is a picture’, he wrote:

wrought with the very stuff of life. The big and simple design, the generous accents, the expansive rhythm, are essentially of the open air, and too, of the morning, of free, unclouded youth. The easy movements of the four horses, the glad unconcern of their children riders – two girls, in soft panama hats, and two boys – the expanse of free-set country on the right, where is the whip in most characteristic attitude amid his pack of hounds with erected tails. Of what sweet and wholesome English beauty is not the whole work composed! … this Cubbing with the York and Ainsty ... give[s] Furse an enduring place among our masters of portraiture.

In essence that place was assured in the obvious echoes and emulation that the work received in the work of other artists. It is difficult to appreciate Alfred Munnings’s Going to the Meet: Captain F.G. Chamberlin and his sister on Mousehold Heath, Norwich, 1907, for instance, without referring to the present work, while the Australian painter, George Washington Lambert’s Miss Alison Preston and John Parker on Mearbeck Moor, 1909, is one of a number of his windswept Furse-ian compositions.

Finally, as late as 1922, it is difficult not to imagine that George Spencer Watson had referred to a print of With the York and Ainsty as he composed Four Loves I Found - a woman, a child, a horse, and a Hound.

All, including Furse, looked back to the equestrian portraits of the 17th Century, first revived by Landseer and in the 1890s by Lavery and Guthrie. To some degree, Furse led the way in this with his R. Allison Johnson Esq., Master of the North Hereford, (unlocated) shown at the New English Art Club in 1893, but at this stage he had not arrived at the classic format of the present work that Munnings and Spencer Watson would so readily appropriate.

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