It would have been easy for Jamie Wyeth to rest on the laurels of his family’s legacy and The Brandywine Tradition that grounded him. As a third-generation painter, he is the son of famed Andrew Wyeth and taught by his aunt, Carolyn Wyeth, who in turn had honed her talent by learning from Jamie’s grandfather, Newell Convers Wyeth. Jamie would have easily attained commercial success staying in this lane. But he didn’t.

Wyeth said in an interview in 2003, “I’m not interested in interesting faces. What I am interested in is a face that I’ve known for years, something that I can go beyond just the face and go into the head of the person.”[1] It is then completely unsurprising that he continually returned to his wife and muse Phyllis Mills Wyeth as a sitter.

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946), …And Then Into the Deep Gorge, 1975, oil on canvas, 36 x 46 inches, Collection of Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

Phyllis Mills Wyeth: A Celebration, the exhibition organized by the Brandywine River Museum of Art currently at the National Sporting Library & Museum, is a beautiful tribute celebrating Phyllis Wyeth’s spirit. (To read more about the Wyeths’ life together and her equestrian pursuits, read the blog, Phyllis Mills Wyeth Comes Home) The paintings and works on paper, however, also develop a picture of the directions Jamie Wyeth’s artistic path took over a span of fifty years.

Cover of Phyllis Mills Wyeth: A Celebration hardbound exhibition catalogue

Wyeth once said he gravitated toward oil paints because they looked “edible.”[2] While his painter’s palette, arguably, may not have changed much over the years, with juicy dollops of pure pigment, the way he mixed or didn’t mix them certainly did. He evolved from the more earthy colors of his earlier work to embracing bolder and bolder colors. Photographer Robert Weingarten immortalized Wyeth’s palette in 2005 as part of a series of photographs of various accomplished artists’ palettes. The lush green at top left of the image below is then in the words of Director of the Brandywine River Museum of Art Thomas Padon, “Phyllis’s Green.” Wyeth selected a vibrant, almost neon green for the front cover of the exhibition’s catalogue to represent his wife.

Robert Weingarten (American, b. 1941) Palette Series: Jamie Wyeth #1, 2005, Archival pigment print on Epson Ultra Smooth Fine Art paper, 21 1/4 × 30 inches, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, 2016.129.4 © Robert Weingarten [source: https://collections.artsmia.org/art/126766/palette-series-jamie-wyeth-1-robert-weingarten]

Is there symbolism in the green? It is a color that comes to the fore more and more in paintings of Phyllis over time. It is a hue that reverberates spring, rebirth, and vitality.

Southern Light, 1994, documents Phyllis’s recovery from a significant surgery, yet another battle hard-fought with the spinal cord injury she sustained in a car accident when she was 20 years old. She had been unsure if she would be able to make the trip to Southern Island, Maine, again, but she was able to recuperate there.[3] In the middle of the composition with a soft palette, is a swirling pop of color, the churning green water seen through the window in the distance.

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946) Southern Light, 1994, enamel and oil on board, 36 x 48 inches, on loan from The Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

Painted 20 years later, Night Vision, 2002, is on the surface a commemoration of the Vietnam War. It is an artistic interpretation of the view through night vision equipment. Phyllis Wyeth, however, was a sitter for it: she is also the determined soldier at the center of this green and yellow starry, starry, night. At the time she would have been about 62 years old and in a wheelchair.

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946) Night Vision, 2002, oil on canvas, 39 ¼ x 29 ¼ inches, on loan from The Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

Jamie completed Catching Pollen, 2012, a decade later. For it, he revisited a painting he had done in 2004, Catching Snowflakes. Both recall a young and exuberant Phyllis, but the 2012 version’s palette electrifies the scene. It is a brilliant color study; the riotous backlit yellows and greens offset the cool purples in the foreground, and the red flower anchors the subject’s face at the center.

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946) Catachin Pollen, 2012, enamel, oil, and gesso on canvas, 60 x 40 inches, on loan from The Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

When Phyllis passed away, Jamie retouched a painting for Phyllis Mills Wyeth: A Celebration, Winner’s Circle, first completed in 2012. In contemplating the direction of his palette choices, I found the changes striking. I had not seen the work before the exhibition and was privileged to view an image of the original version. The vivid greens added over shades of browns are a far cry from Jamie’s Brandywine roots: the re-touch completely transforms the composition with a transcendental halo, the pièce de résistance of a life well lived and well-painted as only Jamie Wyeth could, over a lifetime of going into the head of Phyllis Wyeth.

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946), Winner’s Circle, Belmont Stakes, 2012/2019, oil and acrylic on panel, 36 x 30 inches, Collection of Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

“Phyllis Mills Wyeth: A Celebration” is on view through August 30, 2020. It was organized by the Brandywine River Museum of Art and was generously underwritten at NSLM by Jacqueline B. Mars.


[1] Jamie Wyeth: Art as Witness to History, (The Kennedy Center Performing Arts Series, 15 May 2003), Web, 25 May 2020, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN7uHQUYcFE>
[2] David Houston, Jamie Wyeth, (Boston: MFA Publications, 2014), 29
[3] Ibid., 128


pfeiffer

Claudia Pfeiffer is the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Curator at the National Sporting Library & Museum and has been with the organization since the position was first 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

It is one of the most endearing stories I know: a tale of a boy who had a crush that turned into an over 50-year marriage. The boy, Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946), became a famous artist and his wife, Phyllis Mills Wyeth (1940–2019), his muse. It is a story of triumph, of spirit, and of tenacity. It is a Wyeth story, it is a Mills story, and, at the heart of it, it is a celebration of life. Jamie Wyeth expressed this enchanted tale in his paintings. I cannot think of anything more intimate or pure, and to preserve this sentiment, I will refer to them as “Jamie” and “Phyllis” in this blog entry.

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946), …And Then Into the Deep Gorge, 1975, oil on canvas, 36 x 46 inches, Collection of Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

In 2014, Jamie discussed his artistic process in the short film, Inferno: “I just look at myself as a recorder. I just want to record things that interest me in my life…it’s as if I’m doing a diary.” What must it have been like for Phyllis to so deeply inspire someone that he painted her over and over again? Moreover, what was it like for that painter to be “the” Jamie Wyeth?

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946), Connemara, 1987, oil on canvas, 37 x 73 inches, Collection of Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

When Phyllis passed away in January 2019, the Brandywine River Museum of Art organized a tribute exhibition within two months. Beautifully curated, the paintings and sketches in Phyllis Mills Wyeth: A Celebration, spanning over 50 years, lay bare the essence of Phyllis’s uncontainable spirit and the magnitude of Jamie’s artistic talent. The combination is a moving visual journey of a woman who, despite being dealt what could have been a cruel deck of cards, lived life to the utmost.

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946), Sable, 1988, oil and gesso on panel, 30 x 40 inches, Collection of Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

Phyllis was a force of nature. A child of Alice DuPont Mills and James P. Mills, who established the Thoroughbred breeding and training operation Hickory Tree Farm and Stable in Middleburg circa 1950, she too was an avid sportswoman from her earliest days and loved to ride and jump horses. She went to the Hill School in Middleburg and was friends with Jacqueline B. Mars, daughter of Forrest E. Mars, Sr. Her father was the driving force of Mars Incorporated, introducing M&M’s in 1941, among other now-household names. The girls along with Phyllis’s older sister Mimi were the first children to hunt with Orange County Hounds in The Plains. It was an idyllic life in the Virginia Piedmont.

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946), Iggy Visits Union Rags—Fairhill 2011, 2011, mixed media on toned paper, 4 ¼ x 8 ¾ inches, Collection of Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

Phyllis went on to graduate from the Ethel Walker School, major in Political Science at Finch College, and work for John F. Kennedy when he was Senator and later President. Just shy of her 22nd birthday in 1962, Phyllis was in a life-changing car accident. A head-on collision left her with a broken neck and a year of rehabilitation at a New York City hospital. She walked with crutches (and was confined to a wheelchair later in life).

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946), Point Lookout Farmlife, 2005, oil on panel, 48 x 48 inches, Collection of Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

Following her accident, when she was able, she attended the Maryland Hunt Cup. There, Jamie, five-and-a-half years her junior, saw her and was again captivated after having danced with her at a party. They had met by the time he was 12 years old. The couple married in 1968 and moved to Point Lookout Farm, a 240-acre farm in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. There they surrounded themselves with a menagerie of animals, among them her prized Connemara ponies and Paint horses. After her accident, she turned her love of horses to carriage driving, both for pleasure and competitively. She started Chadds Ford Stable, a breeding operation that produced Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags in 2012. Dogs were the Wyeths’ constant companions, and they split their time between Pennsylvania and their property in Tenants Harbor, Maine.

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946), Winner’s Circle, Belmont Stakes, 2012/2019, oil and acrylic on panel, 36 x 30 inches, Collection of Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

All the while, Jamie painted and captured the narrative of Phyllis’s sporting life and her multifaceted character for decades. The leaps and bounds he took away from his early subdued palette are seen in full force in these paintings. Perhaps he felt freer to experiment when he tried to encapsulate her vibrant spirit and fortitude, using electric colors and throwing paint. In pairings such as …And Then Into the Deep Gorge, completed in 1975, and Out of the Deep Gorge, the same subject revisited in 2002, Phyllis transforms from an enigmatic siren descending into the shadowy forest to a triumphant foil illuminated by a swirl of neon yellow. Jamie’s paintings of Phyllis are a mesmerizing and transfixing journey.

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946), Out of the Deep Gorge, 2002, combined mediums on toned board, 24 x 29 ½ inches, , Collection of Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

At the opening event at NSLM, Jacqueline Mars said that her childhood friend Phyllis has come home. It is a poignant return, and the sentiment rings true in the NSLM galleries as Phyllis Mills Wyeth’s life unfolds through the eyes of her husband from one room to the next, an intimate experience in the original wing of the museum that was once a Federal-style house. At the event, Jamie shared an exchange he once had with Andrew Wyeth. He asked his famed father why he painted, and his answer was, “Well, Jamie, I paint for myself.” Jamie said he also thought of himself in the same way until recently, noting, “Now I know I was painting for Phyllis.” It is an honor to be the final venue for Phyllis Mills Wyeth: A Celebration and to share it with our community.

“Phyllis Mills Wyeth: A Celebration” is on view through August 30, 2020. It was organized by the Brandywine River Museum of Art and was generously underwritten at NSLM by Jacqueline B. Mars.


pfeiffer

Claudia Pfeiffer is the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Curator at the National Sporting Library & Museum and has been with the organization since the position was first 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

When I walked into Joan Danziger’s studio for the first time in 2016, it was magical. An authentic reflection of the artist’s creative output for the past four decades, it is both a working space and a showcase.

I was there to view a new wire and glass sculpture series Danziger had embarked upon of horses. I knew of her previous beetle sculptures, and my interest was piqued. Against a backdrop of over 50 sparkling insects hanging on a wall were two completed equine works, Riders of the Blue Spirit and Black Star, and a few others that had been started.

Black Star, 2016, metal and glass, 32 x 48 x 17 inches

They were something new, something different. As I walked around the sculptures taking pictures of them, I began to analyze how they were different. They were joyful, they made me smile, and they were free-spirited; there was something noteworthy about how they were created that made them unique.

Riders of the Blue Spirit, 2016, metal and glass, 29 x 40 x 29 inches

Danziger has completed 17 horses in the past three years since that visit, of which we have on loan 13 in her current solo exhibition at the National Sporting Library & Museum, Canter & Crawl: The Glass Sculpture of Joan Danziger. Her sometimes whimsical works have a freedom and airiness that is emphasized by their mixed media and construction. Each has a metal base with a soldered rod around which up to four layers of chicken wire are wrapped and shaped. Because her materials are so lightweight, Danziger can project her forms, sometimes as much as 3 feet, away from their footings. The negative space created around the works adds an almost ethereal quality. The support rods are mostly hidden in the finished sculpture, heightening the allusion of her horses as archetypes of dancing, galloping, jumping, and frolicking.

Golden Prince, 2017, metal, glass, dichroic glass, and brass wire, 39 x 53 x 25 inches

The contemporary sculptor’s pieces are obviously not meant to be perfect representations of horse anatomy but are an exploration of the spirit and nature of the horse. Danziger’s studio assistant Rebecca Long, a representational sculptor, creates the basic forms, and Danziger instructs her on elongating and exaggerating proportions. In her early career, Danziger was an abstract painter having studied at Cornell University. Relying on her knowledge of color theory and abstraction, she cuts and applies glass shards and braids wire to the forms to create mosaic surfaces that are an intriguing play of light, shadow, texture, translucency, and opacity.

Detail of Riders of the Blue Spirit, 2016

As a photographer, I can attest to how difficult it is to capture the nuances and subtleties of three-dimensional art in a photograph. We at NSLM are excited to be the first venue for Joan Danziger’s uplifting horse series so that visitors may experience these sparkling jewels in person. If you haven’t seen the exhibition yet and are within driving distance, I encourage you to visit Canter & Crawl before it closes on January 5, 2020.

Panorama of one of the Canter & Crawl galleries.

pfeiffer

Claudia Pfeiffer is the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Curator at the National Sporting Library & Museum and has been with the organization since the position was first 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

I might have been complaining a little bit to my colleagues at the lunch table when a co-worker suggested that I blog about the behind-the-scenes curating of Leading the Field: Ellen Emmet Rand. “I think people would find it interesting,” she said.

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875-1941), Mrs. I. Tucker, Burr, Jr., M.F.H. The Norfolk, 1933, oil on canvas, 48 x 37 inches, Collection of the Burr Family

I thought that curating Leading the Field would be more straightforward. The vision seemed simple enough. First, gather as many of the 20 paintings as possible that were included in the 1936 exhibition, Sporting Portraits by Ellen Emmet Rand, N.A., held at the Sporting Gallery & Bookshop in New York City. Then, find other works that would relate to Rand as an equestrian and a countrywoman.

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875-1941), Miss Charlotte Noland, Foxcroft School, 1929, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 inches, Collection of the Foxcroft School, Middleburg, Virginia

We already knew the names of all the sitters and hunt affiliations of the works in the 1936 exhibition and had close ties to the hunt world. NSLM Board Member and former Joint Master of Piedmont Fox Hounds Turner Reuter helped make phone calls and connections, and I contacted the other hunts. Gary Dycus, another Rand researcher, also offered helpful leads. The first paintings fell into place quickly.

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875-1941), Dr. Howard Collins, ex-M.F.H. The Millbrook, 1935, oil on canvas, 44 x 32 1/2 inches, Collection of Jen and Blair Collins

In the early stages of the project, I met Emily Mazzola who was working on her Masters of Arts in Art History at the University of Connecticut. She had kept a spreadsheet of all the Rand titles she came across along the way. Several of these titles jumped out at me as paintings of the artist’s family and farm: Gren with Gun and Dogs, 1903; John — Sketch on Dykeman, 1924; North Pasture—H.H.F., 1925; Boys with Horses, 1928;  Bill on Polo Pony, 1930s; J.A.R.[John Alsop Rand] – Riding Clothes, 1930s; Silo and Cows – H.H.F, 1930s; W.B.R. [William Blanchard Rand] – Pink Coat, 1930s; Velvet Cap, Whip and Gloves, 1930s; and Chris in Horse Stall. Surely, some of these paintings would still be in the family’s hands.

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875-1941), Hamlet Hill in the Snow, 1923, oil on canvas, 22 x 28 inches, Private Collection

Despite what I considered to be a solid list of leads, it turned out to be one of the most challenging list of exhibition loans I have undertaken in my career. Most of the paintings were still in private hands and had passed through one, two, and sometimes three generations. Twisting branches of family treesdivorces, re-marriages, estates, and family alliancesled to dozens and dozens of possible candidates, countless hours of ancestry and obituary research, and a multitude of cold calls and emails to strangers.

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875-1941), Mrs. Fletcher Harper, 1930, oil on canvas, 43 x 29 1/4 inches, Private Collection

It is always exciting to track down an owner of a work; however, it is only the first step. Unlike institutional loans in which we navigate through a bureaucratic process of approvals and paperwork, securing private loans is about building relationships founded on trust. Loan form completion, conservation standards, and scheduling of packing and pickup around busy schedules can start to seem insurmountable. Lenders reach a tipping point when they truly feelnot just thinkthat their altruism will have a benefit that outweighs the prospect of empty walls and concern over the safety of their cherished pieces.

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875-1941), Jake in Hunting Clothes, 1936, oil on canvas, 42 x 32 1/4 inches, Collection of Rosina Rand

Of the 22 lenders to Leading the Field: Ellen Emmet Rand, all of us at NSLM owe a huge debt of gratitude to the 16 individuals who committed to their loans. I first started the journey towards a better understanding of the artist Ellen Emmet Rand believing that transcribing the 767,000 words of her 17 years’ worth of diaries would be the most daunting aspect of the project, but thanks to NSLM Visitors Services colleagues taking on the transcriptions, this was not the case. Instead, Rand’s words became an earwig in my brain encouraging me to continue to track down loans for the past three years. Thanks to our generous public and private lenders and Rand’s own words, Leading the Field: Ellen Emmet Rand presents exciting new scholarship with paintings, sketches, illustrations, and photographs gathered from across the miles.

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875-1941), Boys with Horses, 1928, oil on canvas, 79 x 64 3/4 inches, Collection of Rosina Rand

Don’t miss the exhibition before it closes on March 22, 2020. If you would like to schedule a tour, please contact Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator Valerie Peacock. For the further reading, please see the Ellen Emmet Rand Slept Here blog.

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875-1941), The Hound Show at The Riding Club, (Last Show at the Riding Club), January 31, 1936, oil on panel, 27 1/2 x 23 1/4 inches, Collection of Rosina Rand

pfeiffer

Claudia Pfeiffer is the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Curator at the National Sporting Library & Museum and has been with the organization since the position was first 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

Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind: Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses—especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.
– Leonardo da Vinci

In popular culture, hard science and art are often perceived as opposites. In reality, however, there is an intimate link between the physical sciences and the creation and perception of an artistic work. An understanding of chemistry, specifically, is able to provide a fascinating twist to artistic appreciation. As an example, the patina of the 19th-century cow weathervane in the National Sporting Library & Museum’s permanent collection is complex and beautiful. A reflection of its age, verdigris is visible where the applied gilt surface has worn away.  One of several weathervanes bequeathed by Paul Mellon, it is currently on view in the exhibition, NSLMology: The Science Sporting Art. The decorative object provides a springboard for discussions about chemistry and art.

American School, 19th century, A Cow, molded copper with cast iron and cast zinc horns, 14 1/4 x 23 inches, Bequest of Paul Mellon, 1999

Chemistry as a science deals with the material properties of elements and compounds, and how these things work together. It is sometimes referred to as the “central science” because it bridges and connects the natural sciences. In art, everything from the mixing of paint to casting of sculpture can be described with chemical reactions and terminology.

The molded body of the weathervane was made from a copper alloy which turns greenish-blue when exposed to the elements. Note also that the patina of the metal exposed in the head of the cow is gray. This is because it is made of cast iron with cast-zinc horns. Welded onto the body, the heavier materials create balance for smoother spinning on the weathervane’s axis. Traditionally, gold leaf was not only applied as an aesthetic choice but also as a practical one. Gold is one of the least reactive elements and the most malleable of metals. It can be hammered into extremely thin sheets and retain its ability to be an effective barrier against moisture and exposure to oxygen.

Ferdinand Pautrot (French, 1832–1874), Rooster, Snails, and Pumpkin, after 1860, bronze
6 1/2 x 3 3/4 inches, Gift of the Estate of Milton Ritzenberg, 2018

Metal casting is integral to the NSLM’s bronze collection. From a scientific perspective, this technique provides fodder for an examination of chemical theory. For example, casting encompasses the three states of matter—liquid (molten bronze), gas (released as the bronze is poured and cools), and a solid (resulting sculpture). Also, the cooling of the bronze is an exothermic reaction, involving the release of heat.

Diagram of classic lost wax casting of a bronze, graphic by Jody West

Pigments are another natural platform for discussing chemical principles. Before paint was mass produced, artists often mixed their own paints from naturally occurring elements and minerals. For example, white paint could be made using lead (lead carbonate), white lime (calcium carbonate), or gypsum (calcium sulfate dihydrate). In 1921, American and Norwegian companies began to develop titanium dioxide, or titanium white, for painting in mass quantities. Knowing this brings a completely different perspective to looking at NSLM’s 17th to 21st century art collection. It begs analysis of how whites compare from one work to another and invites observations about the differences and similarities between them.

Left to right:  Abraham van Calraet (Dutch, 1642–1722), Portrait of a Horse in a Landscape (detail), c. 1690, oil on panel, 19 x 23 1/4 inches, Gift of Mrs. Henry H. Weldon, 2008; Follower of James Ross (British, fl. 1729–1738), A Hare Hunting Scene  (detail), 18th century, oil on canvas, 34 ½  x 54 ½  inches, Gift of Gerald Parsky, 2008; John Bucknell Russell (Scottish, 1820–1893), The Day’s Catch (detail), 1865; oil on canvas, 21 1/4 x 29 1/4 inches, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Timothy J. Greenan, 2011; Phoebe Phipps (English/American, ?–1993), The Quail Hunter (detail), 1986, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24 1/2 inches, Gift of Mrs. Mimi Abel Smith, 2012

With a clinical eye, scientific principles are easily observed in art. An understanding these ideas can enhance one’s appreciation of a work. Chemistry is just one section in NSLMology on view though September 15, 2019. Weather, Ecology, Motion, and Color Theory are also presented in the same way in the interdisciplinary exhibition to shed a universal light on the understanding and appreciation of sporting art. Please join us in the galleries to explore this new perspective on the collection!


pfeiffer

Claudia Pfeiffer has been the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator 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

“Invented by Thos Butler & Executed at his House. Pall-Mall, London, 1755,” read the prominent and legible inscription and date on one of the panels of the NSLM’s Sporting Screen.

The inscription that adorns the NSLM Sporting Screen.

On view in the exhibition, Deconstructed: The NSLM Sporting Screen, through September 15, 2019, this captivating object is presented in its recently conserved state. The screen is decorated with 18th-century themes. On one side are primarily horse and jockey portraits as well as Thoroughbred breeding and a mare and foal image.

(after) Thomas Butler (English, c. 1730-1760), Four-Panel Sporting Screen, c. 1860 (recto),
hand-colored engravings mounted on canvas, and oil on canvas mounted on a wooden frame, 81 ½ x 108 inches, Bequest of Sonia Phipps Seherr-Thoss, 2006

Thirty-two mounted and hand-colored subscription prints from the series, Portraits and Pedigrees of the Most Celebrated Racers from Paintings by Eminent Artists, published between 1741 and 1753, have been adhered to canvas and individually tinted. The full series included 34 engravings. NSLM’s screen features 31 unique images from the set and a repeat (Can you find it?). Underneath the hand-coloring, the square prints look like this:

“Plate 1: Starling,” Portraits and Pedigrees of the Most Celebrated Racers from Paintings by Eminent Artists, with portraits of the Jockeys, Published by Arundel and London, Thomas Butler, 1751-1753, 1753. © Abebooks.com

The engravings include the racehorses’ pedigrees, race wins, and crests of the owners: they are among the earliest attempts to produce a formal record of the emerging 18th-century British racing industry. John Cheny, Sr. oversaw the printing of the annually-produced prints beginning in 1741 until Thomas Butler of Pall-Mall, a bookseller and printmaker, took over their publication in 1750 after Cheny died, until the last one was printed in the series in 1753. The engravings are after the works of sporting artists James Seymour (English, 1702–1752) and Thomas Spencer (English, 1700–1765). The four paintings underneath the prints on the screen are also copies of 18th-century works by James Seymour: Fox, Aaron, Cato, and Slamerkin.

Paintings copied from the works of James Seymour (English, 1702–1752).

On the other side of the screen is a completely different 18th-century sporting theme, classic riding school imagery.

(after) Thomas Butler (English, c. 1730-1760), Four-Panel Sporting Screen, c. 1860 (verso),
hand-colored engravings mounted on canvas, and oil on canvas mounted on a wooden frame, 81 ½ x 108 inches, Bequest of Sonia Phipps Seherr-Thoss, 2006

The eight images are copies of illustrations in the 1729 book, Twenty Five Actions of the Menage [sic] Horse, a riding manual written and illustrated by artist John Vanderbank (English, 1694–1739). Trained in classic dressage, Vanderbank created a series of illustrations, many of which were reproduced in his publication.

John Vanderbank (British, 1694–1739), “The Manege-Gallop with the right leg” engraved as plate 14 in “Twenty Five Actions of the Manage Horse…,” 1729, pen, in gray ink, black ink, graphite, and gray wash on medium, slightly textured, cream, laid paper, 6 5/8 × 6 1/4 inches, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

“The Manege-Gallop with the right leg,’ Plate 14, “Twenty-Five Actions of the Manage Horse” by John Vanderbank; engraved by Josephus Sympson, 1729, National Sporting Library & Museum, Vladimir S. Littauer Collection

The date on the screen was a point of interest. On the surface, the riding school and horse racing images support the 1755 production date of the “Thomas Butler” inscription on the NSLM’s sporting screen. Butler advertised his shop’s ability to copy known sporting artist’s works, which would explain the production of the oils on canvas on the screen’s horse racing side and the imagery after the 1729 Vanderbank publication on the other.

The manner in which the paintings on both sides of the NSLM screen were executed, however, points to a later style. Here is an image of an actual oil on canvas by John Vanderbank for comparison to the manége images on NSLM’s screen:

John Vanderbank (British, 1694–1739), A Young Gentleman Riding a Schooled Horse, between 1728 and 1729, oil on canvas, 19 1/8 × 12 3/4 inches, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

The recent work done by Conservator Deborah Parr on the screen in preparation for the current exhibition afforded NSLM a great opportunity to use scientific analysis to definitively answer the question of when the NSLM sporting screen was made.

Parr took paint samples from sites on the front and back of the screen and sent them off for pigment analysis. This is one of the images from the microscopic review:

Pigment scraping of “Slamerkin” at 1000x magnification contains a mix of
blue and yellow paints to create the color green, photo courtesy Natasha K. Loeblich, Conservator and Paint Analyst

The report confirmed that the pigment, Cerulean blue, was present in all samples, a “smoking gun.” Cerulean blue became available for purchase in 1859. The NSLM screen is, therefore, definitively, a 19th-century piece highlighting imagery produced in the 1700s, well before its construction.

One of the questions, I have received about this conclusive findings is whether or not we are disappointed. The result ultimately relates to a decorative object and not a mis-attributed work of fine art. It is fulfilling to be able to settle a research question and have a proven date to contextualize an object. It definitively tells us that sporting enthusiasts in the 1860s were drawn to antique sporting images for decorations in their homes.

Come out and see the exhibit! There is so much more to explore about 18th-century sporting artists and the conservation work that was done on the NSLM Sporting Screen.


pfeiffer

Claudia Pfeiffer has been the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator 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

What do a stuffed horse, Seattle Slew, the Black Stallion, and Ronald Reagan all have in common? Although the question may seem like the set up for the punchline to a joke, the answer is that they are among the far-ranging photographic subjects represented in the vintage and antique equine imagery recently donated to the National Sporting Library & Museum by Judith & Jo Tartt, Jr.

Ronald Reagan, c. 1960, gelatin silver print, 8 1/8 x 10 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Donated by Judith & Jo Tartt, Jr., 2018

You may recall the loan exhibition in the Museum that ended in January 2018 titled The Horse and the Camera: From the Judith & Jo Tartt, Jr. Photography Collection. A subset of almost 70 tintypes, photogravures, albumen prints, gelatin silver prints, and collotypes from the 1870s to the 1960s were loaned by Judith and Jo Tartt from their 160-image collection of black and white photography to develop a narrative about technological advancements in cameras and resulting images; the evolution of equine sports photography; and the horse as the center of sport, work, and leisure. Among the highlights were early portraits, a stop-motion sequence of a horse and rider jumping by Edweard Muybridge, two images of equestrian competition in the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Leni Riefenstahl, and an art photo of draft horses by Alfred Stieglitz.

“Might Dudley” with Unidentified Female Driver, Toronto, c. 1960, gelatin silver print, 8 x 10 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Donated by Judith & Jo Tartt, Jr., 2018

The collection, however, is even deeper and broader than the topics explored in the exhibition.  Lighthearted circus performers; heart-wrenching war horse casualties; souvenir carnival photos (yes, even with a stuffed horse); iconic celebrities; and a multitude of newsworthy races, racehorses, jockeys, and finishes pepper the collection.

Child Actor Kelly Reno with Arabian stallion Cass Ole, both in the “Black Stallion” movie, c. 1979, gelatin silver print, 7 1/8 x 9 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Donated by Judith & Jo Tartt, Jr., 2018

How does a collection such as this come to exist? It is actually a sweet story. When they began courting, Jo Tartt, a photography expert and now-retired gallery owner, and Judith Tartt, a conservator and equestrian, began to build it together. They started carefully amassing photographic images that featured equines as a combined interest in the 1990s. Their criteria were composition, quality, and uniqueness; and it shows. Each image adds a level of understanding of the relationship that humans intrinsically have with horses, while at the same time providing a “different angle,” both in technical aspects of photography and in the context of the subjects captured.

John Kennedy, 1971, gelatin silver print, 10 x 8 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Donated by Judith & Jo Tartt, Jr., 2018

Many are original gelatin silver prints by unknown photojournalists, some with accompanying wirephoto news service captions. It is easy to get lost in the multitude of these images: a 1971 photo of John F. Kennedy, Jr., at the age of 11, riding a pony and looking absolutely miserable in his hunt attire; a human “foxhunt” in 1937; an astounding show of power in a draft horse pull on Martha’s Vineyard in the 1970s; or a 1952 photo of jockey Johnny Langden weighing out for his almost unbelievable 3,995th race.

Horse Pull, Martha’s Vineyard, c. 1970, gelatin silver print, 5 x 7 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Donated by Judith & Jo Tartt, Jr., 2018

The photographic images may be “weird” to some and “wonderful” to others, but in total they are a most welcome addition to the National Sporting Library & Museum’s holdings. Working on the previous exhibition and programs with Judith and Jo Tartt was an amazing and enriching experience, and knowing that we were able to develop a mutual respect that led to their ultimate decision to generously donate this precious collection is the best gift of all. We look forward to the opportunity of researching these images further and interpreting them in a multitude of ways. Don’t miss some of them in the upcoming exhibition, NSLMology: Science of Sporting ArtHere’s to the “weird and wonderful.”

Stymie, 1959, gelatin silver print heightened with marker and gouache, 6 ½ x 8 ½ inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Donated by Judith & Jo Tartt, Jr., 2018

pfeiffer

Claudia Pfeiffer has been the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator 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