In the field: a collectors guide to sporting art
A birds-eye view of the leading Northern European artists of a genre that ranges from horse racing to fox-hunting, fishing, game-shooting and hare-coursing. Illustrated with works offered at Christie’s, notably from historic Tivoli Farm in Charlottesville
At the turn of the 19th century, the artist Benjamin Marshall (1768-1835) claimed he knew ‘many a man who will pay 50 guineas for painting his horse [yet] thinks 10 guineas too much for painting his wife.’ Marshall was one of many artists who made a handsome living from aristocrats wanting to have their steeds captured on canvas.
In the early 18th century, breeders had begun to cross Arabian stallions with English mares, and the thoroughbred racehorse was duly born. The breed was soon all the rage. The likes of Marshall and his master George Stubbs (1724-1806) depicted these horses at race meetings, and their pictures are at the core of a genre known as sporting art. It’s a genre that captures all manner of rural pastimes, from fox-hunting and fishing to game-shooting and hare-coursing.
Above all else, the genre concerns itself with the natural world and man’s relationship to it. Resultantly, sporting art thrived throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and even into the 20th century. Sporting art is pushing onwards into the 21st century with the National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art, in the town of Newmarket, with its grand reopening in 2016 after a £15 million refurbishment and expansion. There has also been a growing interest in sporting pictures among collectors in the Middle East and China.
From 17 January to 1 February, Christie’s European Art sale will offer sporting art and sculpture from the private collection of Tivoli Farm. Set against the panoramic backdrop of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, the historic farmstead highlights key artists associated with the genre.
John Nost Sartorius (1755-1828)
John Nost Sartorius trained as a sporting artist under his grandfather and father Francis Sartorius (1734-1804). His brother was also a marine artist. As a result, his style is reminiscent of their more traditional approach to sporting painting than of his direct contemporaries. However, Sartorius’ depictions of horses tend to favour a more modern and more naturalistic approach.
Despite being from a long line of artists, John Nost Sartorius was likely one of the most prolific painters of his family. Living at Carshalton, Surrey, Sartorius exhibited over 100 paintings at the Free Society and the Royal Academy. He contributed 16 subjects and over 40 paintings to The Sporting Magazine, and had many esteemed patrons such as the Prince of Wales, Earl of Derby, and Charles James Fox.
John Ferneley Senior (1781-1860)
If not quite in the league of Stubbs, Ferneley was one of this country’s top equine artists. The sixth son of a Leicestershire wheelwright, Ferneley moved to London to study at the Royal Academy School, before returning to his home county and settling in Melton Mowbray.
John Frederick Herring Senior (1795-1865)
Herring started out as a coachman on routes between London and Yorkshire, painting only in his spare time. In due course, he settled in Doncaster — one of the stops on his drives — and became an artist full-time, painting the horses of numerous Yorkshire families.
Among his best-known works are those of the winners of prestigious horse races, such as the St Leger Stakes and the Derby, which he attended each year.
In 1845, he was asked by Queen Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent, to paint the monarch’s two favourite horses. The resultant painting, Tajar and Hammon, was given to Victoria as a birthday present and forms part of the Royal Collection today.
Henry Barraud (1811-1874)
As the younger brother of important sporting artist, William Barraud (1810-1850), the two shared a studio from 1835 until William’s death in 1850. They collaborated on many paintings, including their book Sketches of Figures and Animals published in 1850. Not only did his brother inspire him, but he also studied with J.J. Middleton, a portrait and topographical painter, who influenced his work to be more figurative.
Though it is often thought that William contributed to the animals and Henry the landscape and staffage in the works they painted together, Henry created many major sporting paintings on his own both during and after his brother’s death. Notably so, Henry exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and at the British Institution.
Richard Ansdell (1815-1885)
Son of a Liverpool artisan, Richard Ansdell attended the Liverpool Academy School where he was later elected President. Exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy, featuring as many as 149 works, he was elected as an Academician in 1870. Known for his ability to paint highly naturalistic depictions of animals with human-like pathos, he provided a variety of subject matter with remarkably accurate details.
Later building a studio on Loch Laggan, he continued painting until his death at Collingwood Tower, Farnborough, Hampshire. The contents of his studio were sold at Christie’s, London in 1886. Christie’s also holds the world auction record for the artist.
John Emms (1843-1912)
Emms began as a studio assistant to Frederic, Lord Leighton, before striking out on his own as an animal portraitist. He was praised for the vitality and individuality of his subjects, and particularly renowned for his dogs.
Often, these were hounds, boasting a remarkable range of freshness or tiredness and depicted with confident, fluid brushstrokes. Emms was a keen huntsman himself and regularly went out with the packs of the New Forest area, where he lived most of his life.
Henri-Alfred-Marie Jacquemart (1824-1896)
Henri-Alfred-Marie Jacquemart was considered one of the foremost animaliers, who formally trained at L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and became a frequent participant in the Paris Salons from 1847 through 1879. His works, such as the bloodhound sniffing a tortoise, often capture the ‘soul’ of the animal — in this case to display the curiosity and capriciousness of the hound.
Pairs of hounds, such as this supremely ‘loyal’ pair in The Collector sale, were often found flanking an entry as if to stand guard. Jacquemart also secured several civil commissions for equestrian groups, notably for l'Hôtel de Ville de Compiègne and the Fontaine St. Michel in Paris. Barbezat was part of the Société du Val d'Osne group of foundries. These models are illustrated in the Val d'Osne Catalogue (No. 2, pl. 631, 1864). Another pair are displayed in the gardens at Montier-en-Der, Haute-Marne.