From the Collections: The Sporting Screen

Of the many treasures here in the collections of the NSLM, some objects tell more stories than others.  The four-paneled Sporting Screen is a rare and special piece that seems to always be remembered by our visitors. The free-standing screen features the work of many different artists, includes imagery of 18th century horsemanship and racing, and connects directly with books and manuscripts found in the Library’s F. Ambrose Clark Rare Books Room. It’s a perfect fit for the NSLM collection, and was generously donated in 2006 through the bequest of Sonia Phipps Seherr-Thoss (1919-2006).

Screen_recto
Four-Panel Sporting Screen (recto), mid-18th/19th century, hand-colored engravings, and oil on canvas mounted on wooden screen, each panel: 81 ½ x 27 inches, Bequest of Sonia Phipps Seherr-Thoss, 2006

The front of the screen (the “recto” side) features 32 individual, hand-painted prints of 18th-century British race horses and four oil paintings. The prints, which include pedigree, ownership, and the winning records for each horse, were first published in 1741 by the painter and printmaker Thomas Butler (British, active 1750-1759). Portraits of the same horses also appear in the beautifully illustrated book The Sportsman’s Companion: or Portraitures, Pedigrees, and Performances of the Most Eminent Race Horses and Stallions (Published in 1820). A copy is held in the Library collection.

Sportsman's-companion---Cato
Portraiture of Cato, Drawn and engraved by James and Henry Roberts, in The Sportsman’s Companion . . . (London: 1820). Note the decorative  illustration at the bottom of the page which features the same style horse blankets depicted above.

The back of the screen (or the “verso”) features completely different types of scenes showing early 18th century equitation and training.

Screen_verso
Four-Panel Sporting Screen (verso), mid-18th/19th century, hand-colored engravings, and oil on canvas mounted on wooden screen, each panel: 81 ½ x 27 inches, Bequest of Sonia Phipps Seherr-Thoss, 2006

Painted after original drawings by the artist John Vanderbank (British, 1694-1739), the scenes illustrate a variety of advanced dressage movements. The same Vanderbank illustrations appear in the 1729 horsemanship manual Twenty-five Actions of the Manage Horse. An unbound copy of this book can also be found in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Books Room.

Vanderbanck---Volte-to-the-left
The Volte Reversed to the left, drawn by James Vanderbank and engraved by Josephus Sympson, in Twenty-five Actions of the Manage Horse (London: J. Sympson, 1729). “Manage” (also spelled “Manege”) refers to the art of training riding horses, like today’s dressage. The “Volte” is an exercise for flexibility, completed on a small circle. The authors describe it as the “best lesson to make a horse’s shoulders pliable.”

Caring for an object like this presents unique challenges. The screen is made of wood, oil paint on canvas, prints on paper, leather borders, and metal hardware. These materials are all very sensitive to climate conditions (meaning temperature and humidity), as well as light. Those of you who have been to see the screen in person may have noticed the light levels in the gallery are kept rather low, to protect the fragile materials from overexposure and fading. In order to allow the screen some time to rest out of the light, we will soon be moving it into the Museum’s art storage room. We will use that time to have it carefully evaluated – and eventually conserved – by expert art conservators, in order to preserve and protect it.

Screen_detail-1 We look forward to having this great object cleaned up and put back on view soon! To learn more about the art collections and the library collections, visit NationalSporting.org

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s