This work is an exceptional example within Herring's oeuvre on many levels and his ability to produce the most important and accurate depictions of the history of the turf in the first half of the 19th century is immediately evident. The sheer scale and ambition of the composition coupled with the exquisite detail and faultless draughtsmanship shows an artist in his prime. Herring painted twenty-one Derby winners, thirty-four of the St. Leger, and eleven winners of the Oaks. According to James Gilbert, his contemporary, a Herring portrait was considered 'the crowning honour to the high mettle winner.' (O. Beckett, J.F. Herring & Sons, London, 1981, p. 9). However, above these individual portraits, it is his 'few large pictures' (ibid), such as the present work, which are considered his greatest racing pictures.
Despite its modest size, the Streatlam stud produced some of the greatest race horses of the mid-19th century. The Bowes family owned Streatlam Castle (fig. 1) and Gibside Park, forty miles away near the Northumberland border, which was also the site of the Streatlam stud breeding operations. In 1835, whilst still at Cambridge University Bowes won the Derby with Mundig and the stud remarkably produced three further Derby winners - Cotherstone in 1843, Daniel O'Rourke in 1852 and West Australian in 1853. The last was also the first horse to win the Triple Crown. Bowes' stable also won the Two Thousand Guineas three times. The extraordinary success of Streatlam was in part due to the legendary training ability of John Scott of Whitewall at Malton, as well as his brother William Scott, the famous jockey.
Mr. John Bowes (1811-1885) was the son and heir of 10th Earl of Strathmore but did not inherit the title as he was born 9 years prior to his parents' marriage. His family had owned the estate and castle of Streatlam, County Durham since the 17th century but in 1713 Sir William Bowes, MP acquired from his wife's family the Gibside estate which included some of the area's richest coal seams and led to the family's acquisition of immense wealth through the coal trade. The park at Gibside was laid out by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. The house was also substantially remodelled in the 18th century and it also featured an elaborate Palladian stable block. Gibside is now owned by the National Trust and Streatlam Castle was pulled down in the mid-20th Century.
John Bowes grew up at Streatlam and attended Eton and Cambridge. When Bowes inherited the stud in 1820 upon his father's death, he was not yet of age and therefore the stud was managed throughout the 1820s by the estate's trustees, and primarily by the owner of Whisker, William Henry Vane, then Earl of Darlington (later 1st Duke of Cleveland), at nearby Raby Castle. Bowes then took over the stud in 1835 at the age of 21.
Bowes was a Member of Parliament from 1832-47 and spent most of his later years in Paris. Bowes married Joséphine Benoîte and for a time the couple made their home at the Château du Barry in Louveciennes near Paris. They shared a passion for art and acquired a large collection and upon his death, he created what is now the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle and bequeathed most of his sporting pictures, including this painting to his cousin, to the 13th Earl of Strathmore (great grandfather of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II).
Herring's intimate association with so many outstanding thoroughbreds over a long period, and the fact that he often had painted the sire or the dam - or both - of his present 'sitter', gave him an unequalled knowledge of the bloodlines of those days. His ability to depict the true shape and form of a race-horse was achieved through intense labour and long experience. He was able to analyse the horses's anatomy with an acuity of observation that is extremely rare. The Streatlam Stud can be compared both in style and composition to George Stubbs's exquisite paintings of mares and foals (figs. 3 & 4) which are accurate depictions of specific horses and progeny as well as Jacques-Laurent Agasse's Lord Rivers' Stud Farm at Stratfield Saye (fig. 2). It is not only a precise rendering of the horses's conformation but also Herring captures the Romantic English landscape with deer park and extended naturalistic vista. It is likely that Herring and Bowes conceived this painting as a pendant for Herring's Before the Start of the Derby, 1835 (Sotheby's, New York, 12 April 1996, lot 56 $2,477,500) which features Bowes' Mundig and other horses circling before the start at Epsom. In scale and detail it can also be compared with The Start for the Derby, 1834 (Christie's, London, 20 May 2005, lot 67 $2,023,248).
The painting depicts the stud in its entirety in 1836. Two blood lines were represented at Streatlam: the Queen Mab line and the Beatrice line. From left to right: Oblivion, Maid of Lune, her foal Mickleton Maid, Gibside Fairy, her foal Streatlam Sprite, King of Kelton and his dam Emma.
Oblivion, by Jerry our ot Remembrance was the grand-dam of the 1852 Derby winner Daniel O'Rourke. Maid of Lune, a liver chestnut by Whisker out of Gibside Fairy was foaled in 1831. She was full sister to Emma being by Whisker out of Gibside Fairy and in 1836 had her first foal, a chestnut filly by Velocipide called Mickleton Maid.She was one of the first horses to run, in York, in the colors of John Bowes after he reached his majority. Mickleton Maid won seven races including Doncaster's Park Hill Stakes and the Warwick Cup and was retained as a broodmare at Streatlam Castle and was reasonably successful.
Gibside Fairy, the bay mare in the center by Hermes out of Vicissitude was dam of Maid of Lune and Emma. She was one of the stellar matrons of the British turf producing four daughters between 1823 and 1833 that became influential broodmares: Emma, Maria, Caroline and Maid of Lune. She had been foaled in 1811 so by the time this picture was painted was twenty-five and she lived into her thirties. She had a bay filly in 1836 which was her first foal since 1833, Streatlam Sprite, by Physician.
King of Kelton, a chestnut shown here as a foal was born in 1836, by Priam out of Emma. Emma, a chestnut mare by Hermes out of Gibside Fairy, was foaled in 1824. She was leased by the coal magnate and banker William Russell who, in 1796, had purchased Brancepeth Castle, about four miles south of Durham. Retired to the Streatlam stud, she was dam of both the 1835 Derby winner Mundig (by Catton) and the 1840 Derby winner Cotherstone (by Touchstone) as well as the grand-dam of the 1853 Derby and first Triple Crown winner West Australian (by Melbourne out of Mowerina by Touchstone). She was also the dam of the chestnut Trustee, by Catton, who was a high-class stakes horse, sold to America at the end of his racing career, in 1835. He was imported by Commodore Robert Stockton of Princeton, New Jersey. In America, Trustee got the great race mare Fashion (1837, from Bonnets o'Blue. He also got Revenue (1843) and Levity (1845), one of the most influential mares in the American stud book.