Out of the Rabbit Hole: The Chronicle of the Horse in Art Exhibition

Growing up, one of my favorite books was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Like Alice, I would have gladly followed the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole.  I get the same sense of heady adventure from research. Not much is more satisfying than to dive into the proverbial rabbit hole, follow what might seem to be disjointed paths, only to resurface with new connections.

Researching the upcoming loan exhibition, The Chronicle of the Horse in Art, on view from August 26, 2016 through March 26, 2017, has been one of these grand adventures. Several major loans including works by the sporting art masters George Stubbs, Ben Marshall, and John Ferneley, Sr. are coming from Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Yale Center for British Art, Genesee Country Village & Museum, and private lenders across the country.

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Ben Marshall (English, 1768-1835), John Gully (detail), c. 1815, oil on canvas, 13 ¾ x 12 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, by 1975, reproduced on the 5/30/1975 Chronicle of the Horse cover

On the surface the exhibition concept seems straightforward: find the current location of representative artwork reproduced on the covers of  the famed equestrian magazine, The Chronicle of the Horse (CoTH), and request permission for loans. Simple, right? Not when you start to take into consideration that the magazine started featuring artwork on the cover in August 1945 and continued weekly until March 2012. There were approximately 3,400 covers to unearth, and what we found was that many of the rabbit holes led straight back to NSLM’s permanent collection. As a result, several paintings from the NSLM’s permanent collection will be included as well.

Ohrstrom Sr - Haupt
Eric Guide Haupt (American, 1891 – 1984), Portrait of George L. Ohrstrom, Sr. (1894 – 1955), oil on canvas, 36 x 30 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of the Ohrstrom Family

Portrait of George L. Ohrstrom, Sr. by Eric Haupt appeared on the 11/18/1955 cover along with an obituary written by Editor Alexander Mackay-Smith on page 2.  Ohrstrom, Sr. had taken ownership of the magazine in 1952 until his passing in November 1955. Mackay-Smith and Ohrstrom, Sr. were also founders of the National Sporting Library in 1954.

Edward Troye (American, 1808 - 1874) American Eclipse, 1834, 1843 Oil on canvas, 25 ¼ x 30 ¼ inches Gift of Mr. George L. Ohrstrom, Jr., c. 1974
Edward Troye (American, 1808 – 1874), American Eclipse, 1834, 1843, oil on canvas, 25 ¼ x 30 ¼ inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Mr. George L. Ohrstrom, Jr., c. 1974

George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. took over his father’s role in both organizations and led each for five decades. Ohrstrom, Jr. was an inveterate sporting art collector. On 6/2/1976, American Eclipse, 1834, painted in 1843 by Edward Troye, appeared on the CoTH cover with the credit “Courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. George L. Ohrstrom and the National Sporting Library.” The reproduction was accompanied by a detailed article by Mackay-Smith about the legendary thoroughbred painted by Troye and other art donations to NSL.

Given the NSLM’s and CoTH’s intertwined histories, these works were not a surprise. Others, however, were. We were not able to allocate the time for what would have conservatively been a two-month, full-time job looking through the bound volumes of the CoTH magazines in the Library lower level.  We instead relied on a finding aid and a list shared by the CoTH to do strategic searches. We found that the descriptive titles for the works on the covers magazine often didn’t match the currently known titles. The Library’s digitization of its microfilm holdings of many of the CoTH issues recently made searching infinitely easier. 

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Alfred J. Munnings (1878-1959), Shrimp with Ponies in the Ringland Hills Near Norwich, c. 1911, oil on canvas, 20 x 24 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Mrs. Felicia Warburg Rogan, 2008 © Castle House Trust (Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum)

It turns out that one of the most important paintings in NSLM’s collection was reproduced on the 4/19/1957 cover under the title “Welsh Ponies.” Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum provided the image well before Mrs. Felicia Warburg Rogan purchased Sir Alfred Munnings’ Shrimp with Ponies in the Ringland Hills Near Norwich, c. 1911, and later donated it to NSLM.

Bowman Mongo
Jean Eleanor Bowman (American, 1917 – 1994), Mongo on the Turf at Laurel Racetrack, Maryland with Charles Burr Up, 1964, oil on canvas, 29 x 36 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Jacqueline B. Mars, 2012 © John H. Pentecost

Even a fairly recent donation to NSLM appeared on the 11/13/1964 cover, a portrait of the race horse Mongo with jockey up by Jean Bowman, image courtesy of Mrs. Marion DuPont Scott. An article appeared in the issue about the turf and dirt track champion home-bred at duPont Scott’s Montpelier.

Much like Alice in Wonderland, I find myself waking up in the exact place I started,  refreshed and excited to share the wonderful stories found in the The Chronicle of the Horse, the resulting exhibition, and the research reconnecting the past to the present.

On to the next rabbit hole…

RELATED EVENTS:

NSLM Members are cordially invited to attend a Members’ preview, reception, and gallery talk by George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art Claudia Pfeiffer to celebrate the opening of The Chronicle of the Horse in Art exhibition on Thursday, August 25th from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. To become a member and take part in his event, please contact Frances Monroe at 540.687.6542 ext. 26 or fmonroe@nationalsporting.org.

A public reception will be held on Saturday, August 27th. Join NSLM’s George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art Claudia Pfeiffer, for a coffee reception from 10:00 to 10:30 and then follow her on a custom tour of the exhibition.


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.

email: cpfeiffer@nationalsporting.org

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