There are five striking oils depicting foxhunting painted entirely in black and white in the National Sporting Library & Museum’s permanent collection. The technique is called en grisaille (pronounced “ohnˈ griˈzɑ yə”), a French term meaning in gray tones. Created with mixtures of black and white pigments, these types of paintings date back to the Middle Ages.

George Wright (English, 1860-1942), A Treed Fox, oil on canvas, en grisaille, 17 x 25 inches, Gift of Mrs. Felicia Warburg Rogan, 2008

Created by George Wright (1860-1942), the paintings were among fifteen important British sporting artworks donated to the NSLM by Felicia Warburg Rogan in 2008. Surprisingly little is known about Wright’s life and teaching. The artist, however, left behind a considerable body of work and was acknowledged as one of the top sporting artists of his day by circa 1900.

Many of Wright’s en grisaille subjects are believed to have been produced early in his career for reproduction as illustrations. Working in gray tones was a practical choice for these types of works. There was no need to use expensive color pigments if they were not intended to be seen. Painting in grayscale also allowed for better control of contrasts, shades, and tones. As an example, NSLM has a sixth painting by George Wright done in color that is an almost identical scene to the monochromatic A Treed Fox. This allows the opportunity to make a direct comparison of Wright’s color and black and white techniques.

George Wright (English, 1860-1942), A Treed Fox, oil on canvas, 13 1/2 x 20 inches, Gift of Mrs. Felicia Warburg Rogan, 2008
Left: Detail of Treed Fox, color version; Center: Detail of Treed Fox, color version converted to grayscale; Right: Detail of Treed Fox, en grisaille painting

On the left is a detail of the color painting; in the center is the color version converted to grayscale; and on the right is the actual black and white work. The composition in color is more painterly with a nuanced palette and brushstrokes. Reproduced in black and white though, it becomes muddy, and the details are difficult to see. Where the reproduction fails, the painting on the right succeeds; it has a refined illustrative quality with crisper lines and higher contrasts.

The obvious and purposeful difference between the way Wright painted the two versions reinforces the idea that the en grisaille works were intended for reproduction. To-date NSLM’s compositions have not been found reproduced, but they tell stories in their own right. Two are the same size and bear inscriptions on the bottom left corner, “In at the Death” and “The Kennels.”

George Wright (English, 1860-1942), In at the Death, oil on canvas, en grisaille, 18 x 27 inches, Gift of Mrs. Felicia Warburg Rogan, 2008

In the first, the huntsman presents the brush (fox’s tail) to the lady wearing a bowler hat and riding aside. The recipient of the trophy was chosen by the Master of Foxhounds to reward participants who were skilled riders and kept at the head of the hunt field. The tradition of presenting the fox mask and brush has today become censured, but it is worthy to note that it was done with a sense of deference to the fox.

“Poor Reynard [“reynard” is French for “fox”], his day is done! No more wild raids on the sleeping countryside; no more slaughter in hen house or rabbit warren…Off from your horse, Mr. Huntsman, for the trophies of so gallant a beast are worth the saving,” wrote B. Fletcher Robinson in Sporting Pictures to describe a painting titled Killed in the Quarry by George Wright. (This 1902 folio sized art book held in the NSLM’s F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room was published in celebration of English country sports with works “reproduced in colour by the newest and most perfect process of chromo-lithography.”)

George Wright (English, 1860-1942), At the Kennels, oil on canvas, en grisaille, 18 x 27 inches, Gift of Mrs. Felicia Warburg Rogan, 2008

The second en grisaille painting in the NSLM’s pair, “At The Kennels,shows the hounds obediently following the huntsman to the kennel gate, as the Master looks on and a groom has charge of the horses. The likeness of the huntsman is similar to the one depicted in The Treed Fox discussed earlier and two other en grisaille works in NSLM’s holdings. These all show instances in which the fox is just out of reach of the hound pack.

George Wright (English, 1860-1942), Out of Reach, A Fox at Bay on a High Wall, c. 1884, oil on canvas, en grisaille, 16 x 24 inches, Gift of Mrs. Felicia Warburg Rogan, 2008
George Wright (English, 1860-1942), Closing In, c. 1884, oil on canvas, en grisaille, 16 x 24 inches, Gift of Mrs. Felicia Warburg Rogan, 2008

Wright is believed to have hunted with the Surrey and Old Burstow, and it is quite evident from his works that he had an intimate understanding of foxhunting and its human, equine, and canine participants. Whether or not he intended for the figures to be likenesses of recognizable individuals is unknown. He included them in other hunt scenes over time. The allure of George Wright’s en grisaille compositions evoke nostalgia for a bygone era and a sport that at the same time remains universal and timeless for those who still participate in it today.


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. E-mail Claudia at cpfeiffer@nationalsporting.org

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This past weekend saw the Royal marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.  In the procession following the ceremony, the happy couple rode through throngs of well-wishers in an Ascot Landau carriage drawn by a team of four Windsor Grey horses, including a father and son team named Storm and Tyrone.

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Prince Harry’s and Meghan’s carriage.

This mode of transportation added to the pageantry and glamour of the event.  Its slow pace gave spectators a good view of the newlyweds, and allowed time for them to wave and cheer the couple along.  The carriages, horses, and coachmen involved in this and other Royal state events are supplied by the royal stables, known as The Royal Mews.

The term “mews” originates in falconry.  It refers to the mewing, or molting, of the birds’ feathers.  During this process the birds were not used to hunt and were kept in a building called a mews.  The King’s Mews was at Charing Cross in London, where the National Gallery now stands, and housed the royal falcons and hawks from Richard II’s reign into Henry VIII’s.  A fire in 1534 destroyed the original building, and when King Henry VIII rebuilt it, he moved the hunting birds out, and instead housed the royal stables there.  The building retained the name “Mews” despite the absence of the hawks.

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The entrance to the Royal Mews.

Over time the buildings at Charing Cross became inadequate and a new mews was built on the grounds of Buckingham Palace.  It was designed by John Nash and completed in 1825.  While the Royal Mews remains in that location today, it has been renovated numerous times in the intervening years.  Today it houses the royal carriages and automobiles, the stables for the horses, an indoor riding arena, and apartments for the staff and their families.

Nearly all of the royal carriage horses are either Windsor Greys or Cleveland Bays.  Windsor Greys are not a breed but rather a type and are named for Windsor, where they were originally stabled.  They are all grey, at least 16.1 hands tall, and must have a calm, placid temperament.

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Windsor Greys.

Cleveland Bays are light draft horses.  The breed originated in the Cleveland District of Yorkshire during the 1600s.  Originally they were a mixture of English draft horses and Spanish Andalusians, bred to be sturdy yet swift pack horses.  Eventually Arabian and Thoroughbred blood was added resulting in the taller carriage horses seen at the Royal Mews today.  Cleveland Bays are now quite rare and the line bred at the Royal Mews is important in preserving the breed.

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Cleveland Bays.

Horses with the correct look and required calm demeanor begin training by being broken to saddle and are gradually introduced to harness work.  The daily routine consists of two exercise and training sessions broken by rest and feedings.  In addition to the typical training of a carriage horse, these horses must also learn to handle the unique challenges faced by royal carriage horses.  They receive intense training to desensitize them to the wide variety of stimuli they will encounter on the job, including loud noises and music, flapping flags, balloons, vehicles, and vast crowds.  Only horses that can remain poised in the face of pandemonium will make the grade and eventually participate in a Royal state event.

The horses reside in loose boxes which are large enough for them to turn around in and lie down.  They are trained and cared for by a team comprised of a head coachman, a deputy coachman, and four other coachmen.  Each coachman is responsible for about eight horses, and is assisted by four liveried helpers, who muck out the stalls, groom, feed, and exercise the horses.

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Windsor Greys in their loose boxes.

The Royal Mews also houses the collection of royal carriages.  This includes a variety of coaches, landaus, phaetons, barouches, broughams and even a sleigh.  The most elaborate is the Gold State Coach.  It was built for King George III and first appeared publicly in 1762.

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The Gold State Coach.  The Royal Mews, Mary Stewart-Wilson (1991), the gift of The Chronicle of the Horse.

Today it is used only for the most prestigious of occasions.  The coach is huge.  It is 12 feet tall, 24 feet long and weighs in at 4 tons.  It is always drawn by eight horses at a walking pace.  To prepare for pulling the coach, the horses are trained using an empty carriage to which sandbags are added over time, gradually increasing its weight until it matches that of the coach.

The operation of the Royal Mews supports the preservation of a number of artisan professions.  The carriages are maintained by restorers who make repairs and refurbish both the exteriors and interiors of the vehicles.

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“Carriage restorer Erik West with his assistant Martin Oates in the Royal Mews Paint Shop.”  The Royal Mews, Mary Stewart-Wilson (1991), the gift of The Chronicle of the Horse.

The leatherwork on the bridles, harnesses, and saddles is cared for by saddlers.  While leather is replaced regularly, most of the brass fittings date to the 19th century.  Parts of the harness are still hand stitched with the traditional 15-18 stitches per inch.

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State Harness Room at the Royal Mews in Buckingham Palace. Mr Peter Stark is depicted cleaning the harnesses (Circa 1950).

The livery for the coachmen is as elaborate as the fittings for the horses, and requires specialized tailoring skills to create and maintain.

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“Full State postilion jackets have over 41 metres of gold lace and tubular braid applied to them.”  The Royal Mews, Mary Stewart-Wilson (1991), the gift of The Chronicle of the Horse.

I hope this brief overview gives you an idea of the amount of work and the range of skills required to stage a Royal carriage procession.  The NSLM Library holds a variety of resources on carriages, coaching, horse breeds, saddlery, and the modern sport of driving.  Most of them are available to the public in the Main Reading Room.  Please consider dropping in to explore this fascinating subject more deeply.


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Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. 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 Erica by e-mail

 

Today we will take a break from writing about the Annual Auction and featured Spring exhibition to cast a spotlight on a subject we haven’t discussed in awhile: The Horse in Ancient Greek Art. Yes, it may seem like ancient history by now, but even though the exhibition left Middleburg in January, it continues to engage and inspire viewers across the state and around the globe.

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Attributed to the Sappho Painter, Greek (Attic), Black-Figure White Ground Lekythos, ca. 510 BCE, Terracotta, Private Collection

In fact, the exhibition was just named the 2017 New Tourism Event of the Year by Visit Loudoun. The award goes to organizations that demonstrate exceptional work in bringing cultural and economic value to the area. The Horse in Ancient Greek Art was Loudoun County’s first exhibition of ancient artwork. During its 16 week stay in Middleburg, the exhibition was seen by visitors from 211 different zip codes, including 30 states and 9 foreign countries.

 

For many visitors, this was their first introduction to NSLM, and their first introduction to sporting art. When planning the exhibition, the idea of interpreting ancient artwork in an organization whose oldest artifact dates to 1523 was daunting. However, the comparison between ancient and modern equestrian imagery connected visitors to the artwork in fascinating ways.

 

Though separated by tens of thousands of miles and thousands of years, the people, animals, and places shown on ancient Greek pottery are familiar to anyone visiting hunt country today.

 

The Horse in Ancient Greek Art is now on view at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia. Between visitors at NSLM and VMFA, the show has been seen by nearly 75,000 individuals since September! In Richmond, the show is on view near the other ancient art galleries. Understanding Greek pottery within the context of other ancient Mediterranean cultures adds a new layer of interpretation to the exhibition. The Horse in Ancient Greek Art has been featured in The Wall Street Journal and has been called a “must-see” event.

 

Can’t wait to visit? Join NSLM on a special “Site-Seeing” trip to visit Agecroft Hall and The Horse in Ancient Greek Art at VMFA.


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Anne Marie Paquette is the Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator 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

The changing exhibitions displayed in the Museum give us the opportunity to see works of art in a new light. We can reunite works that have long been separated in different collections, or juxtapose objects which are not normally displayed with each other, or gather together multiple works by the same artist.

In the case of our current exhibition, A Sporting Vision: The Paul Mellon Collection of British Sporting Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, on view through July 22, 2018, we have the opportunity to view works of art by British sporting artists Benjamin Marshall, John Ferneley, Sr., and Sir Francis Grant, and compare them with works by the same artists in the NSLM’s permanent collection.

Benjamin Marshall (English, 1768-1835), Mr. Thomas Willan of Marylebone Park and Twyford Abbey, 1818, oil on canvas, 34 x 40 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Kathryn James Clark in memory of Stephen C. Clark, Jr., 2013

The more time you spend looking at works of art by the same artist, the more you begin to recognize that artist’s style, or “hand,” as art historians often like to say. This portrait by Benjamin Marshall, which is part of the NSLM permanent collection, shows a gentleman named Thomas Willan on his hunt horse. Willan owned a large farm in Marylebone Park, which is located in the present day area of Regent’s Park, London. His gothic-style manor house and gardens were known as Twyford Abbey. While the man and his horse are painted in glossy detail, the thinly-painted background is hazy and indistinct. There is a glimpse of fence line and gate on the viewer’s right and the hint of a waterway on the left. If the manor house is there, it is lost in the muted tones of the loosely painted landscape.

Benjamin Marshall (English, 1768-1835), Noble, a Hunter Well Known in Kent, c. 1805-1810, oil on canvas, 40 ⅛ x 50 inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Paul Mellon Collection, 99.80. (c)Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Other works by Marshall now on view in A Sporting Vision show a similar treatment of background and subject. In the portrait of Noble, a Hunter Well Known in Kent (where the horse is actually the “sitter”), the landscape is made up of loose brush strokes, with lots of sky and indistinct features. Hounds and huntstaff are shown faintly in the background.

Benjamin Marshall (English, 1768-1835), Colonel Henry Campbell Shooting on a Moor, ca. 1806, oil on canvas, 33⅞ x 40⅛ inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Paul Mellon Collection, 99.81. Photo: Travis Fullerton © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

We see it again in Colonel Henry Campbell Shooting on a Moor. The more you look at Marshall’s works, the more you can recognize similarities in the way he paints his figures as well.

John Ferneley, Sr. (English, 1781-1860), and Sir Francis Grant (Scottish, 1803-1878), The Hunt in Belvoir Vale, c. 1835, oil on canvas, 48 x 133 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Kathryn James Clark in memory of Stephen C. Clark, Jr., 2013

Works on view by John Ferneley, Sr., and Francis Grant are connected as well. Ferneley briefly tutored the younger artist and the two collaborated on The Hunt in Belvoir Vale, which is part of the NSLM permanent collection. This mural-sized group portrait from the mid-1830s shows gentlemen foxhunting near the town of Melton Mowbray, highly popular foxhunting territory outside of London. Thirteen of the riders in the foreground are identified portraits, including Grant at the far left side. The painting was commissioned by the Earl of Wilton (1799-1882), who is pictured leading the group.

Detail of The Hunt at Belvoir Vale showing the Earl of Wilton, who commissioned the painting, leading on the chestnut horse.
Detail of The Hunt at Belvoir Vale, with self-portrait of artist Francis Grant at left.

The Sporting Vision exhibition includes several works by Ferneley and one by Grant.

Sir Francis Grant (Scottish, 1803–1878), The Melton Hunt Going to Draw the Ram’s Head Cover, 1839, oil on canvas, 35 15/16 x 60 inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Paul Mellon Collection, 85.494.1. Photo: Katherine Wetzel © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

The Melton Hunt Going to Draw the Ram’s Head Cover was painted by Grant a few years after the NSLM painting. This group portrait features 36 identified figures riding with the Quorn Hunt, also in the Melton Mowbray area. The Earl of Wilton appears here as well, at center in the long grey coat, along with members of his family. The Countess of Wilton and her son Lord Grey de Wilton ride in the phaeton (a light-weight, four wheeled carriage) pulled by two palomino colored ponies. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1839.  Grant went on to a successful painting career and was President of the Royal Academy from 1866 to 1878.

When you are here at the Museum next, I hope you enjoy taking time to compare and contrast the wonderful highlights of British sporting art that are currently on view.

The first Saturday in May sees the annual running of the Virginia Gold Cup steeplechase race. This Saturday upwards of 50,000 people with attend the event held at Great Meadow in The Plains, Virginia.

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Spectators at the race. From the Virginia Gold Cup website

This year the day features seven races, both steeplechases and flat races, in addition to the Gold Cup race. Besides the main attraction of the horse races, visitors can enjoy tailgating, witness the terrier race, and participate in a variety of hat contests, or the tailgate contest. The day closes with a live broadcast of the Kentucky Derby on Jumbo-trons.

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Jack Russell Terriers soar. From Photowalkpro blog

The Virginia Gold Cup was first run in 1922. The single race event was run on the Oakwood estate near Warrenton. The course covered four miles and included the fences and walls already existing in the countryside.

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The original Gold Cup course. From History and Origins of the Virginia Gold Cup by William Myzk, edited by Raymond Woolfe (1987)

The organizers contributed $1000 each to purchase a trophy to be given to the owner of the winning horse. The trophy would be retired and become the property of any owner that won the race three times. The wins did not need to be consecutive nor accomplished by the same horse.

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The first Virginia Gold Cup. From History and Origins of the Virginia Gold Cup by William Myzk, edited by Raymond Woolfe (1987)

In 1924 the race would be moved to Broadview Farm where it would be run through the mid-1980s. Even in the beginning the race was a big draw. Along with the Maryland Hunt Cup, it would become known as one of the two most challenging timber races in the United States.

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Race day crowd at Broadview in 1927. From From History and Origins of the Virginia Gold Cup by William Myzk, edited by Raymond Woolfe (1987)

Eventually development of the land surrounding Broadview necessitated a move for the race. In 1982 Nick Arundel located a 500 acre site near The Plains. To be known as Great Meadow, he purchased it as both a preserved green space and a permanent location for the Gold Cup. At the same time, he founded the Meadows Outdoor Foundation, later renamed Great Meadow Foundation, which organized the support of others that believed it was critical to preserve park land for the community.

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Great Meadow. From Weddingspot.com

Unlike the prior Gold Cup racecourses which utilized the existing countryside, Great Meadow was designed as a racecourse. It provides challenging but ideal conditions for the horses and excellent conditions for spectators.

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Virginia Gold Cup at Great Meadow. From Our Community Now

The horses that succeeded on this new course were of such quality that in 1993 the British Jockey Club automatically qualified the winner of the Virginia Gold Cup for entry in the world famous Aintree Grand National. This is a distinction previously granted only to the annual winner of The Pardubice in Czechoslovakia and the Maryland Hunt Cup.

Although the race has evolved over the years into a more elaborate event, at its core it remains true to the traditions of the past. It celebrates hunt riding, hunt country, and the equine history of Northern Virginia, and carries those traditions into the future.


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Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. 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 Erica by e-mail