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Bay Ascham, a stallion, led through a gate to a mare

Bay Ascham, a stallion, led through a gate to a mare
oil on canvas
59 7/8 x 72 in. (152.1 x 182.9 cm.)
Painted for the Hon. George Pitt (1751-1828), 2nd Baron Rivers, and by inheritance to his nephew,
William Augustus Pitt Lane-Fox (1796-1832), and by descent in the family to his great-grandson,
George Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers (1890-1966), the Manor House, Hinton St. Mary, Dorset, and by inheritance to his partner,
Stella Pitt-Rivers, née Lonsdale, from whom acquired by the following,
with John Baskett, London, on behalf of,
Paul Mellon (1907-1999), United States, by 1969, by whom sold
Christie's, London, 17 November 1989, lot 8.
with Arthur Ackerman & Sons, London, where acquired by the present owner in November 1990.
Jacques-Laurent Agasse, Catalogue Autographe de son Oeuvre 1800-1849, Geneva, recorded under either the date 10 March 1804 or 22 June 1804.
Judy Egerton, British Sporting and Animal Paintings, 1655-1867, The Paul Mellon Collection, 1978, pp. 181-182, no. 186, plate 23.
J. Baskett, The Horse in Art, New Haven and London, 1980, p. 120, illustrated.
C. Sanger, 'Agasse in London', Jacques-Laurent Agasse 1767-1849, exhibition catalogue, London, 1988, p. 32.

Brought to you by

Francois de Poortere
Francois de Poortere International Director, Head of Department

Lot Essay

Born in Geneva to a 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 animal anatomy and dissection. The outbreak of the French Revolution put an end to his French stay and he returned to Geneva in 1789. It was here in 1790 that he met George Pitt (1751- 1828), later 2nd Baron Rivers of Stratfield Saye, who would go on to be his most important patron – commissioning the present painting amongst many others. At Pitt’s instigation, Agasse settled in London in 1800, with the ambition of establishing himself as a prominent sporting painter to affluent aristocrats. In Bay Ascham Agasse deploys his profound knowledge of anatomy while also succeeding in conveying the animal’s character, the proud tilt to the head and the lively dancing feet, justifying the praise bestowed upon him by his younger contemporary, Edwin Landseer: ‘he paints animals like none of us can.’

The horse himself was owned and bred by the Earl of Lonsdale; He was by Ascham and his dam was the Gower Stallion, his ancestry also included the famous racehorses the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian. Despite this, he was never trained for racing but was a stallion on the Earl’s celebrated stud farm. It is possible that George Pitt chose Bay Ascham as Agasse’s subject because he had sent some of his mares to be covered by him, and may even have acquired the stallion at some point for his own stud at Stratfield Saye; this would accord with the dating of the painting to 1802-04, after the death of the Earl of Lonsdale. In the advertisements of the 1804 Racing Calendar, the stallion was described as ‘fifteen hands and a half high, his colour dark bay, with black legs, and in point of bone, strength and symmetry, he is equalled by few thoroughbred horses’. Agasse painted a variant of the composition, also dateable to 1804 and of the same size as the present work (U.K. Private Collection), and a smaller version, measuring 25 x 30 in., the following year.

The painting formed part of the legendary collection of Paul Mellon (1907–1999), one of the greatest art collectors and philanthropists of the twentieth century. Mr Mellon established the Yale Center for British Art in  New Haven, CT, the largest and most comprehensive collection of British art outside the United Kingdom, as well as its sister institution in London, the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, which is the leading supporter of teaching, research, and scholarly publication in the field.


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