Ben Marshall (Seagrave 1768-1835 London)
Ben Marshall (Seagrave 1768-1835 London)

Portrait of a sportsman carrying a gun, with a pointer in a landscape

Ben Marshall (Seagrave 1768-1835 London)
Portrait of a sportsman carrying a gun, with a pointer in a landscape
signed and dated 'B. Marshall pt. 1799' (lower left)
oil on canvas
28 x 36 ¼ in. (71 x 92 cm.)
in a contemporary carved and gilded frame
Edward Balfour (1849-1927), Balbirnie, Fife; his sale (?), Christie's, London, 31 May 1907, lot 141 (126 gns. to Wilson).
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 12 October 1945, lot 54, sold for 2,400 gns. to Ellis and Smith, on behalf of the following,
Walter Hutchinson (1887-1950); his sale (?), Christie's, London, 20 July 1951, lot 107, sold 3,400 gns. to Gordon, on behalf of the following,
Eric Moller, Thorncombe Park, Surrey, and by inheritance to his wife,
Mrs. Norma Moller; her sale (?), Sotheby's, London, 10 November 1993, lot 119 (£250,000).
Country Life, 26 October 1945, p. 738.
R.W. Symonds, Furniture Making in 17th and 18th century England, London, 1955, p. 101, illustrated.
J. Egerton, ‘Solitary Sportsmen: The Shooting Paintings of Ben Marshall (1768-1835)’, Country Life, 24 July 1975, p. 190.
A. Noakes, Ben Marshall 1768-1835, Leighton-on-Sea, 1978, p. 32, no. 27, pl. 1, as a portrait of the artist.
E. Waterhouse, The Dictionary of British 18th Century Painters, London, 1981, p. 233, illustrated, as 'conceivably a self portrait'.
R. Walker, Regency Portraits, I, London, 1985, p. 335, as 'so-called self-portrait'.
(Possibly) London, Royal Academy, 1801, no. 698.

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Lot Essay

This atmospheric picture of a sportsman with a pointer in a landscape is an exceptionally fine work by Ben Marshall, the artist described by Ellis Waterhouse as ‘the most distinguished sporting painter in the generation after Stubbs’ (op. cit., p. 232).

Long considered to be a self-portrait of the artist, it has been more recently suggested that the picture is the untraced work exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1801 (loc. cit.), showing the celebrated sportsman J.G. Shaddick. A full-length portrait of the sitter by Marshall, now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington (fig. 1), was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1806 with the lines: ‘His skill acquired/ No bird of flight escapes’. The backdrop of the present work is reminiscent of Marshall’s portrait of Colonel Henry Campbell Shooting (c.1806; Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts), in which the Colonel stands surrounded by his three dogs and his horse in a similarly Romantic landscape, drawing the focus to the figure itself. In her 1975 article Judy Egerton (loc. cit.) wrote that Marshall’s shooting paintings ‘carry conviction because the artist understands his subject so thoroughly that he can combine the tangible – man, beast, costume, gear – with the intangible – expertise, endurance, wind and weather’.

Marshall was born in Seagrave, Leicestershire, the fifth of seven children. Little is known about the artist’s early life but by 1791 he is recorded as leaving his post of schoolmaster and moving to London to study painting under the portraitist Lemuel Francis Abbott (1760-1803). Legend tells that on seeing Sawrey Gilpin’s Death of a Fox at the Royal Academy in 1793, he turned his back on portraiture to focus on animal subjects. Early in his career Marshall secured royal patronage, executing horse portraits for the Prince of Wales (later George IV), and exhibiting at the Royal Academy from 1800 for two decades. In 1821 he became racing correspondent for the Sporting Magazine, and from 1812 until 1825 he lived in Norfolk, before returning to London, where he remained until his death in 1835.

Edward Balfour (1849-1927), 8th of Balbirnie, lived at Balbirnie House, Glenrothes, which had been rebuilt by his father Lieutenant-General Robert Balfour, 6th of Balbirnie, by 1817. A number of works from the 1907 Balfour sale are now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, including Ships in a Storm by Jacob Adriaensz. Bellevois (1621-1676), A Landscape with a Ferry and a Church by Jan Josephsz. Van Goyen (1596-1656), and Barnyard Fowl and Peacocks by Melchior d’Hondecoeter (1636-1695).
Walter Hutchinson (1887-1950) ran the eponymous publishing company that had been founded by his father, Sir George Hutchinson, in 1887. In the 1920s he published many of E.F. Benson’s ‘spook stories’ in Hutchinson’s Magazine, and subsequently in a series of books. Other notable authors who published their works with the house included Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells and Vladimir Nabokov. His acquisition of this picture was probably for the National Gallery of British Sports and Pastimes, which he opened in February 1949 at Hutchinson House, near Oxford Street in Stratford Place. Originally named Stratford House, the building was later known as Derby House. After the bombing of Christie’s King Street salerooms during the Second World War, the 17th Earl of Derby allowed the auction house to occupy Derby House rent free. With Hutchinson’s death in 1950 the gallery closed and the contents were dispersed by Christie’s at Spencer House, St James’s Place, in July 1951. Highlights from the sale included Constable’s Stratford mill on the Stour, near Bergholt, or ‘The Young Waltonions’, 1820 (London, National Gallery), Stubbs’s Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath (sold again in these Rooms, 5 July 2011, lot 12), Gainsborough’s Partridge Shooting near Sudbury (1745), and other significant works by artist such Munnings, Sickert, Tissot, and Hogarth.

Eric Moller was a businessman and racehorse owner who assiduously restored Thorncombe Park in Surrey, which housed his outstanding collection of furniture, clocks and pictures. Born in Shanghai into a Scandinavian ship-owning family, Moller rapidly rose within the family business, establishing the Moller Line as one of the largest independent fleets in the Far East. Escaping to England after the Japanese invasion, Moller took up a senior position within the Ministry of War Transport, subsequently returning to the Far East and relocating the company to Hong Kong. Moller was a keen sportsman, pursuing interests in polo and thoroughbred racing. In Shanghai he had ridden as an amateur jockey, and once in England, he took over the running of the famous White Lodge Stud at Newmarket in partnership with his brother Ralph and the expert trainers Harry and Geoffrey Wragg.

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