The majority of works in the art collection of the NSLM are by British or American artists. However, we also have some excellent examples by continental European artists. Our only painting by a Dutch artist also happens to be one of the oldest paintings in the collection.

Portrait of a Horse in a Landscape, c. 1690, oil on panel, 18 7/8 x 23 ¼ inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Mrs. Henry H. Weldon, 2008
Portrait of a Horse in a Landscape, c. 1690, oil on panel, 18 7/8 x 23 ¼ inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Mrs. Henry H. Weldon, 2008

Portrait of a Horse in a Landscape was painted by Abraham van Calraet (Dutch, 1642–1722) around 1690. Calraet was from the city of Dordrecht, in the southwest region of The Netherlands. He lived and worked during the later half of the great Dutch “Golden Age,” a time of amazing artistic production, when artists like Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals, and Judith Leyster flourished. Calraet painted still lifes, landscapes, and small horse portraits, or “Pferdeporträts,” which were increasingly popular in the late-17th century. He likely studied with another Dordrecht painter, the more well-known Aelbert Cuyp (Dutch, 1620-1691). Both artists often signed their works with their initials “A.C.”, which led to some confusion. For many years – centuries, actually – works by Calraet were attributed to Cuyp. In many instances, Cuyp’s signature was falsely added to the paintings. It wasn’t until the early-20th century that scholars started identifying which of those works were actually by Calraet.

Calraet_head detail

The dark bay horse in the NSLM painting has a broad chest, substantial build, and a kind eye. He is shown standing in a field with no tack and no humans to be seen, though he is shod and clearly well cared for. Most of the background is made up of sky and clouds. The landscape below features a small group of cows lounging near the river bank (a common scene in Dutch paintings of this time period). The modestly sized oil painting is on wood panel, rather than canvas.

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detail of hooves, with horseshoe nails
Calraet_cow detail
detail of cows in background

It is not known whether the painting was commissioned by the owner of the horse, or if the artist chose the subject because it would sell well on the open market. But we do know that the exact same dark bay horse appears in another Calraet painting from the same time period.

Abraham van Calraet, Horses in a Marsh Landscape, c.1690, oil on panel, 15 x 20 1/8 inches, Private Collection
Abraham van Calraet, Horses in a Marsh Landscape, c.1690, oil on panel, 15 x 20 1/8 inches, Private Collection

Here the dark bay has been joined by a chestnut friend, and a more typical Dutch landscape (with a meadow and windmills) is shown in the background.

Another Calraet work which bears similarities to our painting is in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

A Brown and White Horse with a Saddle Beside It, 1675-1685, oil on oak panel, 13 ½ x 17 ½ inches, Victoria & Albert Museum, Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend, 1868, © Victoria & Albert Museum
A Brown and White Horse with a Saddle Beside It, 1675-1685, oil on oak panel, 13 ½ x 17 ½ inches, Victoria & Albert Museum, Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend, 1868, © Victoria & Albert Museum

Like the NSLM piece, this painting is also on wood panel, and a lone horse is the focus. While this horse is a paint, the conformation and sweet expression are very similar to our dark bay. The background is much darker, and the foreground here shows barnyard supplies – a 17th century saddle and tack, a curry comb and brush, a bucket, and a clog shoe. All three of these paintings include a feature the artist and his contemporaries often incorporated into compositions – the tree or tree stump in the very near foreground.

The NSLM’s Calraet horse is quite well traveled (those Dutch warmbloods are such jet setters). During its lifetime, the painting has been included in exhibitions in London, Dordrecht, Paris, Birmingham, Alabama, New Orleans, and Baltimore, Maryland.  In 2008, the work came to stay at its new home here at the NSLM, when it was generously donated by Mrs. Henry H. Weldon.

Portrait of a Horse in a Landscape is currently on view in the permanent collection galleries of the Museum. Stop by and meet him soon!

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With Carriage Day scheduled for this summer, we thought it a great opportunity to highlight a spectacular object in the Permanent Art Collection. For those of you that have seen it in person, you will likely never forget it – the sterling silver model of a park drag that came to the Museum in 2011.

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Park Drag; a Tabletop Centerpiece with Custom-made Elkington & Co. Mahogany Carrying Case, English, c. 1910, sterling silver on a marble and wooden base 17 ½ x 41 ½ x 9 ½ inches (excluding marble and wooden base), Museum purchase with funds donated by: Hector Alcalde, Helen K. Groves, Manuel H. Johnson, Jacqueline B. Mars and Jacqueline L. Ohrstrom, 2011

It is the largest known silver model of a coach, measuring a substantial 3 ½ feet long excluding the base. The piece was intended to be a tabletop centerpiece decoration – if you can imagine a soirée worthy of such a fine object.

Impressive I know, but why is it mysterious? It seems to have surfaced out of thin air in 1950 even though it is thought to be a circa 1910 creation. Curators are sticklers for provenance. It makes us nervous when there isn’t a complete line of ownership from the point of creation of an object to the present. It makes us even more nervous when English sterling silver doesn’t bear the hallmarks it should.

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A&W, lion passant, leopard’s head, and capital letter P hallmarks on footrest of coach and various submarks

The model has plenty of hallmarks – a full set on the footrest of the coach and submarks on all of the pieces, each applied as a result of an assay (formal metallurgical analysis). The capital letter P in the square indicates the year of assay – 1950. The leopard’s head is the mark of the London Assay Office. The lion passant represents sterling silver. The A&W hallmark is that of a small silversmith firm no longer in operation, Austin and Williams, first registered in the London Assay Office in 1933.

The hallmarking system has historically been rigorously enforced in England to maintain standards of quality and consistency. For an object to be sold, a mark of origin of the assay office, a standard of fineness mark designating the grade of the silver, a maker’s mark, and a date letter are required. Based on this, the 1950 hallmarks on the coach directly contradict the assertion that the object was produced circa 1910.

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The piece was created with a wide variety of silversmithing techniques. The hackneys were cast via the lost wax method which allows for greater detail.
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The coach is made with sheet silver. The wheels, lamps, and horn are separately cast pieces. The basket is woven from of silver wire.

This little bombshell is enough to make any curator’s blood run cold, but it wasn’t the only research challenge. Some of you may have encountered the description of this piece as “The Vanderbilt Coach” promulgated while it was under the ownership of Mr. George Mossman, a member of the esteemed English Coaching Club and an expert carriage maker, who acquired it c. 1950. The model carries with it written testimonials that it was commissioned and displayed by the renowned historic figure and internationally-acclaimed champion carriage driver, Alfred G. Vanderbilt himself. After extensive review of these documents, we have been forced to connect some of the key documentation to a separate, much smaller-scale sterling silver model.

Vanderbilt, however, would have certainly been one of a few who might have been able to bypass the hallmarking system, especially if the model was intended for export to the U.S. The quality of the model and its magnitude point to someone with the means and desire to have it created. The problem is that there is to-date no known primary written source that confirms the original ownership of the model.  Could Vanderbilt’s untimely passing on the Lusitania in 1915 explain the mystery surrounding the creation of object? Was the sale never completed?

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The model is displayed atop its custom-made carrying case built by Elkington & Co. circa 1910.
Elkington label
The case lining has been replaced, but the original Elkington & Co. Ltd. Silversmiths label is still intact.

The park drag model came to the collection along with a custom-made carrying case built by Elkington & Co. circa 1910.  The esteemed silver firm was famed in the 19th century for its elaborate silver tableau displays at international fairs. The NSLM’s sterling silver park drag rivals these works which represent hundreds of hours of silversmithing and finishing techniques at the highest levels. It would certainly make much more sense that a piece like the coach would have been produced by the great Elkington & Co. instead of a small firm in existence for only a few decades with no recorded output on this order.

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Stereograph No 126. The Alhambra Table, by Elkington & Co., The International Exhibition of 1862 [source: http://www.worldofstereoviews.com/images/1862/aa0170.jpg ]
After hundreds of hours of research, interviews, and expert silversmith and coaching opinions, I am as of yet unable to fully explain the hallmarks and the gaps in the provenance of the park drag tabletop centerpiece. I remain hopeful that one day we will be able to solve the mystery at the Museum, but at the end of the day, the silver coach speaks for itself as a magnificent work of art, regardless of who owned it or made it.

If you have any information to share regarding the model, please contact me at cpfeiffer@nationalsporting.org.


pfeifferClaudia Pfeiffer has been the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art at the National Sporting Library & Museum since the position was underwritten by the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Foundation in 2012. Her primary focus is the research, design, interpretation, writing, and installation of exhibitions.

This weekend the Piedmont Driving Club invited me to a picnic drive at Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, Virginia. Fortunately, I had some previous experience riding in a carriage. When my colleagues and I went to Colonial Williamsburg for the Virginia Association of Museums Conference earlier this year we were treated to a private drive through town. Historically, only certain members of society would use vehicles like these refurbished carriages. This is no longer the case, and people of all walks of life participate in driving events across the nation.

I was surprised at how different a drive was in the country versus in town. During the colonial era carriages were often used in town  or for short journeys. The American colonies and early nation had notoriously bad roads. Travel was much smoother by water (ever notice that most colonial capitals were on navigable waterways?). There were few exceptions to this, one of which was our own Loudoun County. Loudouners built – and preserved – over 300 miles of country roads, most of which date to the 18th and 19th centuries. These provide an ideal setting for today’s picnic drives.

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Driving on a private road near Upperville, VA

A few different kinds of carriages were represented during the drive. Carl and Caroline Cox, my generous hosts, drove a wagonette. Wagonettes sport four wheels and seat four, not counting the driver, and can be pulled by two or four horses. Carts have two wheels, one or two occupants, and are usually pulled by one horse. Coaches, which can seat 12, 16, or more, are very heavy and are pulled by larger teams of horses. Coaches were the public transportation of their era and are not taken on picnic drives in the countryside.

Each of the carriages on this drive were a work of art in their own right. And with the exception of cleverly disguised champagne coolers, these vehicles are using the same technology as their 18th century counterparts, including braking systems, building materials, and driving techniques.

rich and molly

I had a wonderful time learning about these carriages and the people who drive them. If you want to know more about wagonettes, carts, coaches, and more, don’t miss Carriage Day at NSLM. We are partnering with the Piedmont Driving Club and Colonial Williamsburg to bring these carriages to you! Over twenty carriages will be displayed (without horses) across our grounds on May 21 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. The day will include walking tours, kids activities, an afternoon drive-by, and a keynote talk with Paul Bennett, Colonial Williamsburg’s Director of Coach and Livestock. Yes, it’s all free of charge – Don’t Miss It!

Carriage Day mailer_marks FINAL


 

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Anne Marie Barnes is the Educational Programs Manager and Fellowship Advisor at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM). Her passion for museum work began shortly after graduation with a Bachelor’s degree in History from James Madison University. Between her expeience working at the Fredericksburg Area Museum & Cultural Center and the Washington Heritage Museums, she has done everything from designing summer camps to formulating major fundraisers. Have a question? Contact Anne Marie by e-mail

We have many things in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room, including many beautifully-decorated books. Often, though, fascinating things don’t have gilt, engravings, or woodblock prints. A tiny (five inches by three inches), leather-bound tome came to hand last week, and it turned into today’s highlight.

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The Generous Sportsman, or, a Brief Discourse of Setting Doggs by A Lover of the Setting Sport. Ca. 1725, bound in early sheep skin, book stamped “Riders 1666” on verso. National Sporting Library & Museum, acquired 1994, the gift of John H. Daniels. F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

The book is in the manuscripts collection, and is entirely hand written. As the title page indicates, it is a very early (estimated early 18th Century) work on setters, including a general overview of the breed, and discusses training and traits desired for hunting.

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“Shooting Scene,” from Presentation Copy to William Edkins by Samuel Howitt (c. 1756-1822). National Sporting Library & Museum, acquired 2014.

The author discusses best practices for hunting with dogs, whether allowing them more freedom to roam the field or less is more useful for catching scent. The book also claims that dogs with mottled or black coats are desirable, as they are more visible in the evening hours when bird hunting occurred.

The bookseller’s slips that accompany the book indicate that this is the earliest known book in the English language about a particular breed of dog. It also contains the first known mention of the pointer breed by name. The book was purchased as a Christmas gift for John H. Daniels by his wife Martha in 1993.

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Reportedly the earliest known written reference to the pointer. “Should theze omitt mentioning another kind of Doggs much in Vogue with some by ye term of Naturall Pointer, by some called Spanish Trotter.”

The work is clearly legible, with a little patience. There are many abbreviations to save space in the little notebook, and the non-standardized spelling of the day also challenges the modern reader. However, the handwriting is surprisingly clear once you adjust to it.

What book has surprised you with great content in a humble cover? Do you find reading our highlight images to be difficult? Let us know in the comments below or send us an e-mail!


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail