John Crocker Bulteel (1793-1843), who is portrayed in this early watercolour by John Frederick Lewis, achieved national renown for his exploits in the hunting field. He was Master of the Dartmoor Hunt and, at his estates at Lyneham and Flete in Devon, he bred the finest pack of hounds in England. He is seen here in his parlour taking his ease after a day’s hunting. With him, in prime position in front of the blazing fire, are two of his favourite hounds, possibly the same as those depicted by Lewis in his Marmion and Lazarus, foxhounds in the pack of J.C. Bulteel, Esq, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1829 (no. 978; present location unknown). This or a similar image was engraved by his brother, C.G. Lewis, in 1834, as Fox hounds in the pack of J.C. Bulteel Esqre MP / from a drawing in the possession of Lord Northwick. The engraving was subsequently published in Sporting (1838, pl. 30, p.105), an illustrated volume by C.J. Apperley (Nimrod), to accompany ‘Stanzas on two fox-hounds in the pack of J.C. Bulteel, Esq, M.P.’
The hounds and their master had been celebrated in verse published in 1828 in the popular country gentleman’s periodical, The Sporting Magazine
(XX, p. 440):
Oh, the young Squire of Fleet is come into the West
From the packs of the Kingdom his drafts are the best
Save Jack Square and Dick Ellis, attendants he’s none;
He feeds them himself, and he hunts them alone.
If he keeps to his point, and he stands on his feet,
There’ll be never a man like the young Squire of Fleet.
This doggerel and the following six stanzas are a clear pastiche of Sir Walter Scott’s widely-known verses, The Young Lochinvar, from his epic narrative poem, Marmion (1808).
Given his epithet, the ‘Squire of Fleet’, it is likely that Bulteel is the subject of the watercolour, The Squire, which Lewis exhibited at the Society of Painters in Water Colours in 1830 (no. 103). It is probable that either the present watercolour, or the almost identical version of it that exists in a private collection, was the Society of Painters in Water Colours exhibit. It was well received by the critics who noted the verisimilitude of detail, which was later, in his Orientalist paintings, to bring Lewis so much acclaim. Like those later marvels of constructed reality, this is an artful mingling of minutely observed objects, brought together to reveal different aspects of the sitter’s identity. On the walls are what appear to be copies of works by Frans Snyders, a Flemish artist popular in English country houses, notably A Vegetable Market, one from a series of four enormous canvases depicting markets, acquired by Sir Robert Walpole for Houghton Hall in the 1720s. Their allegorical theme of peace as the origin of plenty and their association with the famous whig politician may have been messages that Bulteel, as the son-in-law of Lord Grey, and himself soon to be whig MP for South Devon, wished to convey to the world. This is not a conventional portrait of a famous hunting man, represented in action in the field, but a more subtle portrayal of a prosperous and reflective landowner with his beloved dogs.
We are grateful to Briony Llewellyn for preparing this catalogue entry and for the assistance of Charles Newton.