Franklin Brooke Voss counted among his patrons a “Who’s Who” of some of the most successful and affluent people in the United States in the early-to mid-20th century, including the likes of John Hay Whitney, J. Watson Webb, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, Alfred Vanderbilt, Walter Jeffords, F. Ambrose Clark, and Emily T. duPont. These patrons, however, had something other than wealth in common. They were all equestrians in a golden age of turf and field sports, and just as importantly, they were supporters of the arts.
Voss was born in New York City in 1880. He began drawing equine subjects while still in school and studied with George Bridgman at the Art Students League of New York in New York City for seven years at the turn of the century. Upon completing his education, Voss began painting by commission. One of his early works, Polo Player, 1909, is believed to be a portrait of one of the members of the Big Four, the indomitable team from the Meadow Brook Polo Club on Long Island that won the Westchester International Cup three times in a row in 1909, 1911, and 1913.
Voss was commissioned to paint many of the leading steeplechase and flat racehorses of the day. He also painted foxhunting, polo, and coaching compositions; many works featured the portraits of prominent horse owners, trainers, and riders. Voss completed over 500 works, and he undoubtedly became a successful equine portraitist to discerning members of the turf and field because he shared their passion for and knowledge of horses, equine sports, and art.
Voss came from a family of equestrians and grew up on Long Island in the midst of what was then prime foxhunting country. His father was a founder of the Rockaway Hunt Club on Long Island, and his uncle formed the Elkridge Hounds in Monkton, MD, so it is not surprising that Voss was himself a polo player in his youth and an avid foxhunter and horseman. Several members of the Meadow Brook Hounds, the leading pack on Long Island, with whom Voss also subscribed, became his patrons and repeatedly commissioned works from him. Portrait of Mrs. William C. Langley Riding Aside on Sandown, 1921; Sandown, 1927; and Oh Girl, 1928 were all painted for Elida B. and William C. Langley, both members of the Meadow Brook.
Many of Voss’s works were also reproduced as illustrations, including Mr. Thomas’ Foxhounds in Piedmont Country, 1919, also known as Gone Away Across the Blue Grass in Full Cry. The painting was one of a pair commissioned by the author Joseph B. Thomas and was the frontispiece for Thomas’s 1937 book Hounds and Hunting Through the Ages.
Voss painted and hunted in much of the Mid-Atlantic and in England throughout his life, but he continued to have strong ties to and complete many works around Long Island and Maryland. Alligator, 1929, the portrait of the winning steeplechaser remembered for going on to win both the 1929 Maryland Hunt Cup and the 1930 International Gold Cup after falling and being remounted in each race, was painted at the Meadow Brook course for owner Maud K. Stevenson of Long Island. She married S. Bryce Wing, a famous Maryland horseman, foxhunter, and longtime friend and patron of the painter.
It is fitting that in the end, Voss, a life-long equestrian and artist, would die of a heart attack on a day out with the Elkridge-Harford pack surrounded by his friends and supporters while foxhunting in Monkton, MD in 1953.
Claudia Pfeiffer is the Deputy Director and George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator at the National Sporting Library & Museum and has been with the organization since the position was first underwritten by the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Foundation in 2012. Her primary focus is the research, design, interpretation, writing, and installation of exhibitions. E-mail Claudia at email@example.com