When we visit a museum and admire the great works hanging there, it is easy to imagine the masterful artists sitting down and creating each piece in one swift movement, merely putting brush to canvas and bringing to life yet another masterpiece. In actuality, the process of creating art is a long and arduous one, and the work hanging in the gallery is seldom the first iteration.
As part of my internship, I have been working with a collection of watercolors by Cuthbert Bradley, an early 20th century artist and writer who lived and worked in England. Born in 1861, he was the son of the Rev. Edward Bradley, also a well-known writer and artist. Cuthbert Bradley first worked as an architect, but upon moving to the countryside with his wife engaged more with his love of sporting pursuits, becoming a journalist for The Field and hunting regularly with various packs. As an artist, he was entirely self-taught and showed a penchant for depicting hounds.
The collection of watercolors I have been working with offers a unique opportunity to explore the artist’s process. They are primarily studies, possibly made in preparation for a later, more finished, work and feature handwritten notes describing who is in the painting, what is happening, and even details such as the date, the location of the kill, and the time the hunt lasted. In a few instances even the horses and dogs are named. One painting, The Earl and Countess of Lonsdale Arriving at Barleythorpe, 1893, is specifically labeled by Bradley as being a study for a painting he would later present to Lord Lonsdale. By completing a study, the artist can “map” a painting and decide on composition before committing to a final piece. It also allowed the quick capture of a moment outdoors in the days before cameras were portable or even commonplace, perfect for documenting a fast-paced hunt. Because it will not be a final work, the artist is free to leave imperfections or paint over them loosely, as evidenced in this detail from Viewing a Fox Away, 1917.
A painting’s reverse can also be a fascinating source of information about the artist and his work. As these works are not framed, I am able to view the backs and learn quite a bit more from what I find there. On the back of Mr Henry Spencer Hunting the Blankney Hounds, 1920, the artist left extensive notes, a list of dogs’ names, a sketch of a galloping horse and rider, and a message stating “Please Return to Cuthbert Bradley, Folkingham, Lincolnshire,” all haphazardly strewn about the paper. Several other pieces are mounted on mats that have seemingly been reused, as the backs have handwritten captions for paintings that are no longer attached and are not in our collection. A fascinating example is Stirrup Cup: Lord Lonsdale. Master of the Cottesmore, 1915-21., 1921, on the back of which another painting remains, though it has been cut. A large “X” is drawn through one of the horses clearing the fence. It is hard to say whether Bradley suffered a falling out with the subject of this painting, decided to go in a different direction with the study, or merely completed the work and wanted to recycle his materials for newer pieces. Regardless, it is an excellent example of how the front of a work seldom tells the entire story.
As a museum, it is our responsibility to not only show works of art but to interpret them. The watercolors of Cuthbert Bradley are a profound example of how important it is to consider not just the visible portion of the painting but the entire work. What’s hidden behind the frame can tell us a great deal about the artist and their artistic process.
If you would like to learn more about Cuthbert Bradley and the hunts he frequented, the library has copies of his books Good Sport Seen with some Famous Packs 1885-1910 and Fox-hunting from Shire to Shire in both the Main Reading Room and the Rare Book Room.
Cynthia Kurtz is the Spring 2019 Curatorial Intern at the National Sporting Museum and Library. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in Museum Studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and graduated cum laude from Tulane University with a degree in Classical Literature in 2016. When not at the museum she can likely be found with her beloved horse Splash.