John Emms was born in Blofield, Norfolk, the son of a plumber, glazier and amateur artist, Henry William Emms. In his early career, he worked as a studio assistant to Frederick, Lord Leighton, helping to paint a fresco at Lyndhurst parish church in Hampshire. Living at first in London, it was to Lyndhurst that Emms retired, drawn by his interest in the New Forset and hunting with the foxhounds, buckhounds and beagles.
As a keen and active huntsman Emms found his vocation painting sporting scenes, particularly images of dogs. An accomplished horseman and convivial guest, the artist sought patronage throughout the British Isles, travelling extensively to find clients and subjects. Increasingly painting dogs, he depicted the Clumber spaniels belonging to the Duke of Newcastle, as well as many winners of Cruft's.
He exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and the British Institution, the present painting appearing at the R.A. in 1899. This was a period when Emms was at the peak of his artistic skills and career. The fluidity of brushstrokes adding to the sensitivity of mood within this picture, make it an outstanding example of his style. The expectant expressions of the hounds, combined with the alert stance of the terrier, beautifully capture the character of the animals. A pink hunting coat, slung over the stable door, emphasises the seemingly inpromptu and informal moment portrayed.
In 1902, Emms suffered from a stroke, and although he continued painting until 1909, from then on struggled to support his family, succumbing to alcoholism. Exchanging paintings for drink with Ernest Harris, proprietor of The Stag Inn at Lyndhurst, it was a bathetic end to an estimable career.