For those of us who have never attempted to ride in a sidesaddle, the idea might conjure images of a subdued and dainty rider unchallenged by her environment. For those knowledgeable about the physical ability needed to pursue hunting, however, sidesaddle riding evokes admiration and even awe for the skilled athlete who makes it appear effortless. Sporting artworks beginning with early depictions of women’s forays into the hunting field riding aside (as opposed to astride) on horseback reveal them to be highly trained equestrians fully capable of jumping and galloping alongside men, and sometimes besting them. The artwork spanning over three-hundred years in Sidesaddle, 1690-1935, on view through March 24, 2019, highlights these indomitable women.

The earliest painting in the exhibition is Jan Wyck’s Hare Hunting, c. 1690. Wyck, a Dutch painter, moved to England in the 1660s and became one of the first generation of sporting artists working in the emerging genre. In the painting, the hounds are in full cry on the line of a hare; two gentlemen and a lady follow at a gallop. She is shown relaxed and confident and in full control of her mount.

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Jan Wyck (Dutch, c. 1645 – 1700) Hare Hunting, c. 1690, oil on canvas, 56 x 48 inches, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

How to Twist Your Neck, 1809, by Thomas Rowlandson is another great example. The caricature painted in watercolors is a humorous scene showing a lady at a full gallop following a hound. She is bent at the waist having just cleared a low branch. Behind her, her “pursuer” has not ducked and in shocked surprise is about to be dramatically unseated, having run neck-first into the limb.

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Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1756 – 1827), How to Twist Your Neck, 1809, watercolor on paper, 3 13/16 x 5 13/16 inches, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

The painting aptly titled, A Confident Approach, by Henry Thomas Alken, shows an elegant lady foxhunter in a black riding habit and top hat about to take a fence, while the rest of the hunt field goes around, avoiding the jump. She is the only female in the scene, and her muddy skirt is a silent testimony to where she has already been.

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Henry Thomas Alken (British, 1785 – 1851) A Confident Approach, c. 1850, oil on canvas, 14 x 14 inches, Collection of Lorian Peralta-Ramos

The theme continues with Thomas Derville Rowlandon’s set of twelve Foxhunting Scenes. Going to the Meet, The Meet, A Good Start, Going Strong, A Momentary Check, Well Over, A Loose Horse, Hark Away, A Friendly Gate, From Scent to View, With the Leaders, and The Kill follows a lady’s successful day foxhunting on a gray. In Well Over, she jumps a stream with ease while a male hunter has barely cleared the jump and the horse of another has refused. In the next work in the sequence, the second male rider emerges from the stream while another having been unseated, runs after his horse. Each successive composition emphasizes the lady’s skill, often exceeding that of some of her male counterparts, over the course of the day.

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George Derville Rowlandson, (British, 1861 – 1928) Well Over and A Loose Horse; two of a set of twelve Foxhunting Scenes, before 1920, oil on canvas, 10 x 14 inches, Collection of Dr. & Mrs. Stephen Penkhus

In The Meynell – Away from Sutton Cross Roads, after 1920, by Frank Elgernon Stewart, the lady rider is a focal point of the composition in which the huntsman blows his horn and the hounds are in full cry. She is among the leaders of the hunt field following the esteemed hound pack, and she is shown keeping pace with ease, having just cleared a fence.

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Frank Algernon Stewart (British, 1877 – 1945) The Meynell – Away from Sutton Cross, Roads, after 1920, watercolor on paper, 9 x 28 inches, Collection of Dr. & Mrs. Stephen Penkhus

Each exhilarating work elevates sidesaddle equestrians as they overcame obstacles with skill and panache, riding aside over open country while in skirts. These ladies’ tenacity and grit continue to be celebrated in art to this day.

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Gail Guirreri-Maslyk (American, b. 1968), Meath Hunting Sidesaddle, I, 2013, oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches, Collection of Ms. Karen Waldron and Mr. Shawn Ricci

pfeifferSidesaddle, 1690-1930 was co-curated by Claudia Pfeiffer and Dr. Ulrike Elisabeth Weiss, Lecturer at University of St. Andrews in Scotland and NSLM John H. Daniels Fellow.  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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When a covey of quail is flushed, the birds instinctively take simultaneous flight from cover in an energetic burst, dispersing within seconds. It makes for challenging sport, and from mid-October to mid-March, in what is known as the Southern plantation belt, a tradition plays out, much like it has for over a hundred years. Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama are known for premiere quail shooting. Many of the properties that are still in operation were acquired after the Civil War by industrialists who cultivated habitats for the game birds and popularized the genteel pursuit.

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Ogden Minton Pleissner (American, 1905 – 1983) The Covey Rise, 1960, watercolor on paper, sight size 16 ¾ x 28 inches, Gift of Private Collection, 2018

A recent donation from a private collector to the National Sporting Library & Museum, the watercolor Covey Rise, 1960, by prominent American sporting artist Ogden Minton Pleissner (1905-1983) offers a glimpse into this regional pastime. Two pointers are seen in a classic pose, pointing in the direction of the flushed quail flying toward a pine row, while two guns stand ankle deep in wet grass and take aim in the foreground. To the right, the mule-drawn wagon is equipped with seats for the gentlemen and space for the gun dogs and accouterments; it likely carries an elaborate luncheon to be enjoyed in the field.

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Pleissner painting outside of his cabin. Ogden Pleissner, 196-? / unidentified photographer. Ogden M. Pleissner papers, 1928-1976. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. [source: https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/items/detail/ogden-pleissner-8477 ]
Pleissner was an avid sportsman who knew the nuances of upland bird shooting. He took up wingshooting in the 1930s and gained access to sporting camps, preserves, plantations, country estates, and patrons internationally. The artist’s sporting background informed his subject matter, and he became known for his painterly and authentic scenes such as Covey Rise, 1960. A previous owner of the picture, Andre W. Brewster, wrote Pleissner in June 1982:

I have long admired your work and finally purchased this watercolor at the Crossroads in New York a year or two ago. It reminds me much of Oketee [sic]…It would be most appreciated if you would write me of the place, time and circumstances of your painting of this particular watercolor.

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Letter from Andre W. Brewster to Mr. Ogden Pleissner, June 7, 1982, NSLM Curatorial files

The Okeetee Club, a game preserve to which Brewster referred, was started in 1894 by a group of New Yorkers who banded together to purchase 50,000 acres in South Carolina to establish the quail club. It featured a rice field that was reminiscent of the one depicted by Pleissner. The artist responded a few days later:

The watercolor that you have was painted several years ago at Talassee [sic] Plantation in Albany Georgia. I’m sorry it is not on Oketee [sic], but as the quail country all through the south is very similar it could very well have been there. I hope this will not spoil your enjoyment of the painting.

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Letter from Ogden M. Pleissner to Mr. Andre W. Brewster, June 11, 1982, NSLM Curatorial files

It is exciting when an artwork is accompanied by materials that shed such a personal light on a composition.  The recent addition of the watercolor and letters to NSLM’s collections is significant, not only as a representative work by Pleissner, but as a subject that is greatly underrepresented in the art collection. Depicting a classic aspect of sporting life that is still pursued today, Covey Rise, 1960, is now on view in the Museum. Stop by and see it in person! Plan Your Visit


pfeiffer

Claudia 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

This last spring, I was accepted into the Attingham Trust’s The Horse and the Country House course: “This intensive, ten-day study programme, will examine the country house as a setting for outdoor pursuits, such as hunting and racing, and as a focus for horse-drawn travel.” Looking back after returning from the two-week program in England at the end of September, this verbiage was an understatement. It was not only the most intensive, but the most immersive and well-planned course I have ever taken. It also afforded me the privilege of meeting a group of amazing and knowledgeable people, and it is a trip that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Days were filled to the brim with private tours at different venues, lectures, engaging conversation with approximately thirty international course participants, and more (delicious) food than is advisable. (I ate far more “bangers and mash” with onion gravy than I care to admit.) We began our whirlwind tour in Newmarket, the mecca of British horseracing, staying at the historic Jockey Club founded in the mid-18th century.

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Nighttime view of the Hyperion sculpture by John Skeaping (English, 1901-1980) in front of the Jockey Club, High Street.
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The Jockey Club rooms

Visits to the National Heritage Center for Horseracing and Sporting Art with Director Christopher Garibaldi who was also a course participant and planner, to The Gallops training ground, and to trainer’s yards highlighted over three centuries of tradition in breeding, racing, and art. The museum, for example, has on display a painting by John Wootton, Queen Anne and her Entourage on Warren Hill Newmarket, c. 1707 – 1713. The exaggerated slope of the composition in no way diminished the impact of standing in the grass watching horses and jockeys train on that very same hill over three-hundred years later.

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John Wootton (British, c. 1682-1764), Queen Anne and Her Entourage on Warren Hill, Newmarket, c.1707-1713, Private Collection loan to National Heritage Center for Horseracing and Sporting Art, Newmarket
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Warren Hill canter at The Gallops training ground, Newmarket

The Munnings Art Museum in Dedham in England, location of the former home of famed sporting artist Sir Alfred Munnings and his wife Violet, was another highlight. We were invited for a private viewing of Castle House with 150 works displayed chronologically, Munnings’ studio, the archives, and a tented reception. Director Jenny Hand and staff made us imagine that we were honored guests of the Munnings.

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Paintings by Sir Alfred Munnings of Violet Munnings on view at Castle House, the Munnings Art Museum in Dedham

At Euston Hall and Pleasure Grounds, we were again made to feel like cherished guests during the intimate visit. The 6,200-acre property was inspiring, emphasizing the past of the English country house while serving as a sustainable model for the present and future. The 12th Duke and Duchess of Grafton undertook the painstaking conservation and restoration of the grounds and house beginning in 2012. The Duke spoke with pride of reestablishing waterways designed in centuries past and the regional breeds being kept by the family – the Red Poll cattle, Suffolk sheep, and the Suffolk Punch, now a very rare heavy horse breed. In the timelessly-restored interior, the Duchess expanded on their magnificent art collection and the rich, multi-generational history that the works represent.

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The Duke of Grafton discusses the widening of the River Blackbourn in recent years to the original width in the designs by William Kent in 1731.
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A Suffolk Punch bred by Lady Euston, mother of the current Duke, and a groom

At Bolsover Castle, we were treated to a private reenactment of manège (the ancestor of modern dressage) riding and training in the historic riding house, bringing static 16th– and 17th-century book illustrations to life. The much smaller area ably navigated by the Spanish horse breeds was also a striking contrast to the showing the day before of para-equestrian dressage rider Charlotte Cundall at the Bishop Burton College arena.

Para-equestrian dressage rider Charlotte Cundall with BamBam at the Bishop Burton College

During the discussion after the manège demonstration, Dominic Sewell was asked how he trained his horses. He answered that the “excellent translation of Frederico Grisone’s Gli Ordini de Cavalcare by Elizabeth Tobey” with practical descriptions was instrumental in deciphering the antiquated techniques. It gave me chills. Tobey was the National Sporting Library & Museum’s first John H. Daniels Fellow in 2007. Her research of the Library’s 1550 first edition Grisone – the first manual on manège riding – and others led to her translated and annotated version published in 2014 along with translator Federica Deigan. To see her work in practice was awe-inspiring.

Participants of the 2018 Attingham Trust Programme, The Horse and the Country House, at Hovingham Hall, photo © Alexandra Lotz (www.horses-and-heritage.net)

These are just some of the moments over the past two weeks that reminded me again and again why I fell in love with country life and its devotees, art, traditions, culture so long ago. I am humbled and honored to have had the opportunity to be enriched by such diverse and inspiring participants and presenters who all generously shared their unique perspectives on the horse and the country house.


pfeiffer

Claudia 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

This week’s blog is written by National Sporting Library & Museum Intern Finley Stewart.

Finley Stewart was a summer 2018 Photography and Marketing Intern. She is a graduate of The Hill School and Mercersburg Academy and is a rising Sophomore at the College of William and Mary.

Please visit our website to learn more about NSLM’s internship opportunities.


I am lucky enough to have grown up in Middleburg, just a block away from the National Sporting Library & Museum. After spending eighteen years in this one-stoplight town, I felt pretty confident that I knew every stick and stone, but then I stumbled upon the NSLM website on a chilly Wednesday in January. I realized that I was completely ignorant to the most interesting attraction of Middleburg; the artistic specificity and depth presented in the National Sporting Library & Museum is unparalleled to anything I had seen before. I was delighted to learn that there was a summer internship program offered. I promptly applied and was accepted.

On my first day, I spent a full fifteen minutes looking at Shark with his Trainer Price by George Stubbs, a painting  that was on view at NSLM as part a the traveling exhibition organized by Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, A Sporting Vision: The Paul Mellon Collection of British Sporting Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. I had never spent so much time in front of one piece of art, and in my silence, I discovered the artist’s voice. Although it was a short interaction in a busy day, it made all the difference. During my six-week internship, I realized that a patient, learned respect for art – whether  a painting, sculpture, or photograph – is specific to the experience at the National Sporting Library & Museum. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to appreciate not only the Museum as it is presented to the public, but the ins and outs of the permanent collection and its documentation process.

Paintings on view in permanent collection gallery  – right: John Bucknell Russell (Scottish, 1820-1893), The Day’s Catch, 1864, 21 x 29 inches, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Timothy J. Greenan, 2011, photo by Finley Stewart

My internship was a hybrid between digital photography and marketing. When I was not actively photographing, I had a front row seat to the workings of the Museum, as my station was situated between the offices of Curator of Permanent Collections Nicole Stribling and George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art Claudia Pfeiffer. Through watching them navigate everything from the climate of the Museum to possible vendors, I realized all the moving parts that have to come together to present a united front. In other words, the introspective, didactic experience I had with the painting on my first day was anything but coincidental; it was carefully orchestrated by the staff of the NSLM.

Herbert Haseltine, (American, 1877-1962), Percherons: Messaline and Her Foal, 1957, bronze on marble base, 11 1/2 x 14 x 6 inches, Gift of Jacqueline Ohrstrom, 2011, photo by Finley Stewart

For the first project of my internship, Ms. Pfeiffer taught me the groundwork of photographing art. Until this point, my photo experience ranged from film to digital, yearbooks to art magazines, and I felt as though I knew everything there was to know. My perceived omniscience was interrupted when I stepped into the studio with Claudia.

I realized my work was entirely creatively based, and that there was a whole other realm of factual photographic documentation. The priority was to make the photograph as close to the actual piece of art at hand— an objective only achieved with meticulous light set-ups and positioning. The first collection I worked with was by Reuben Ward Binks. This collection varied in size and dimension, thus requiring constant adjustment of the lights and camera.

Reuben Ward Binks (English, 1880-1950), Black Labrador with Pheasant in Water, watercolor on paper heightened with gouache, 10 ½ x 13 ½ inches, Bequest of Elizabeth D. Clark, 2017, photo by Finley Stewart

After I completed photographing the forty-five watercolors, Ms. Pfeiffer taught me how to properly post-process them. Previously, I had only used Adobe Photoshop® CC to add imagination to my photographs, but Claudia taught me how to revert back to a realistic standard. As a result of the diligent set up and careful post-processing, my photographs held a sense of realism and authenticity that they never had before.

Michael Lyne (English, 1912-1989) Middleburg Hunt, Full Cry with Blue Ridge in the Distance, 1950, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches, Gift of Mrs. Felicia Warburg Rogan, 2008, photo by Finley Stewart

For my next project, I was assigned a collection of sculptures. Photographing 3D objects proved to be an entirely new ball game. With more volume and a curving surface, there was more opportunity for unwanted shadow and distortion.

Edward Marshall Boehm (American, 1913-1969), Percheron Work Horse, “H.S. Finney from Maryland Draft Horse Breeders Association,” porcelain, 10 x 12 x 4 ½ inches, Gift of Marge Dance and family of the late Humphrey Finney, 1995, photo by Stewart Finley

Ms. Pfeiffer and I had to get creative to bounce light onto the sculpture to, ironically, produce the most realistic picture we could. During this session, I realized the essence of art photography: it is not the absence of creativity and imagination, but the application of innovative thinking behind the camera to produce a realistic photograph. The artistry is more elusive: the creativity is not obvious in the final product, but extremely present in its preparation and implementation.

This past month-and-a-half has been invaluable to my photography knowledge, creative experience, and art appreciation. I’m eternally grateful to Claudia Pfeiffer for taking the time to teach me how to photograph realistically, while slipping in creativity when needed. Looking forward, I primarily photograph outside, and with more light and color there is opportunity for creative voice. Now I will be careful keep Ms. Pfeiffer’s commitment to realism in mind, certain to prioritize the accuracy of the subject above all else. – Finley Stewart, July 2018

J. Clayton Bright (American, b. 1946), Red Fox (Vulpes Fulva), bronze, 14 x 31 x 6 inches, Gift of an Anonymous Donor, 2013, photo by Finley Stewart

 

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

Mr. Paul Mellon (1907-1999), a revered philanthropist and sportsman, was a lifelong incurable collector. He and his first wife Mary famously purchased their first George Stubbs painting  in 1936 – Pumpkin with a Stable-Lad, 1774, now in the Yale Center for British Art collection.

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George Stubbs (British, 1724–1806), Pumpkin with a Stable-lad, 1774, oil on panel, 32 3/8 x 39 7/8 inches, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection [ image source: http://collections.britishart.yale.edu/vufind/Record/1667168 ]
At the height of his collecting, Mr. Mellon was acquiring in the neighborhood of 200 works a year. By 1955 he and his second wife Rachel “Bunny” Mellon converted the Brick House, a former residence on their Rokeby Farm property in Upperville, Virginia into a library and art gallery to house their growing British sporting art collection.

Another collecting interest that Mr. Mellon developed was in vintage and antique weathervanes. He loaned one of his early acquisitions, a 19th century stamped copper cow, to the Popular Art in America exhibition held at the Brooklyn Museum in 1939. “Mr. Mellon loved the sculptural form of the weathervanes,” noted Beverly Carter, his former administrative assistant in 2002. “He used most of these pieces in the same way that he used the sculpture from his collection, displaying them on tabletops or on freestanding pedestals throughout the Brick House.”

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A.L. Jewell and Co., Waltham, Mass., c. 1860, A Horse, with Left Front Leg Raised, copper, 18 x 20 inches, Bequest of Paul Mellon, 1999

In 1998 Mr. Mellon generously donated the first of several weathervanes to the National Sporting Library & Museum to adorn the main cupola of the current Library building, then under construction. Carter made arrangements to have the piece transferred from  the basement of the Brick House so that it could be installed while a construction crane was on site.

A Horse Jumping a Post and Rail Gate
A.L. Jewell and Co., Waltham, Mass., third quarter, 19th century, A Horse Jumping a Post and Rail Gate with directionals, molded and gilded copper with ridged sheet copper mane and tail, 30 x 36 inches, Donated by Paul Mellon, 1998

When Mr. Mellon passed away in 1999, he bequeathed an additional eleven weathervanes that he had collected between 1973 and 1991, one of which was a life estate bequest. The latter and another weathervane bequeathed by Mrs. Mellon came to NSLM when she passed away in 2014, bringing the collection to a total of thirteen objects.  Hound Chasing a Fox adorned the Hunter Barn at Rokeby Farm, and is a little worse for wear. Remnants of gold leaf are still visible, however it is oxidized and has several holes that seem to have been the result of target practice!

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L.W. Cushing & Sons, Waltham, Mass., third quarter, 19th century, Hound Chasing a Fox with directionals (detail), copper with gold leaf, 22 x 52 inches, Bequest of Paul Mellon, 2014

Several of the weathervanes are on display in the Library and Museum, and the collection as a whole provides a significant overview of desirable forms, subject matter,  finishes, and sizes produced in the 19th century by a variety of manufacturers, some unknown. Not surprisingly there are five weathervanes that are equine-related, including the two previously mentioned, a mid-19th century trotter and rider, a full-body figure horse and jockey, and a highly-detailed child and pony cart manufactured by J. L. Mott Ironworks, NY, c. 1893. The three latter ones adorn the Library’s Paul Mellon Foyer.

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J.L. Mott Ironworks, New York, c. 1893, Child and Pony Cart, sheet-copper and zinc, 16 x 24 inches, Bequest of Paul Mellon, 1999

Farm animals and wildlife subjects that Mr. Mellon added to the collection include a running fox, a small ram, a large ram, a bull, and the massive pig that adorns the stacks in the Main Reading Room. Mr. Mellon was particularly fond of the pig which he displayed on a table in the Abbey Room, the main library at the Brick House.

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The Library’s Main Reading Room (prior to the recently completed book re-cataloging project)
A Pig
E.G. Washburne and Company, N.Y., late 19th century, A Pig, copper, 24 x 46 inches, Bequest of Paul Mellon, 1999

Another fine example is the 26-inch long copper and gold-leaf grasshopper that is on view opposite the NSLM Executive Director’s office. Mr. Mellon originally had it installed outdoors at his private airstrip for several years before having it regilt and placed on display at the Brick House as well.

A Grasshopper
American, 19th Century, A Grasshopper, copper with gold leaf, 11 x 26 inches, Bequest of Paul Mellon, 1999

In an interview “Paul Mellon on Collecting Art,” before his passing, Mr. Mellon was seated in the Brick House surrounded by the iconic collection he had amassed over several decades and planned to gift to several public institutions. Behind his left shoulder was his famed first Stubbs painting of Pumpkin and over his right – a horse weathervane with left front leg raised, most likely the one now in the National Sporting Library & Museum’s collection. When asked to give advice on collecting, Mr. Mellon said about his lifelong passion, “Immerse yourself in whatever you are interested in,” jokingly adding, “but if you’re very lucky, you won’t do it at all.”

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Newly designed sticker to be given to NSLM members as they join or renew and will be available for purchase in the Museum gift shop.

I will be adding this little gem to my sticker collection. The image is based on the outline of the weathervane which sits atop the NSLM’s Library building.  Since it has the distinction of being the only weathervane that Mr. Mellon gifted to NSLM during his lifetime, it is fitting that we introduce this graphic while we are the opening venue for  the exhibition of the Paul Mellon British Sporting Art collection traveling from Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Sporting Vision: The Paul Mellon Collection of British Sporting Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.


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

Working as a professional portrait and animal artist in the 1800s was not an unusual occurrence, unless you were a woman. Mrs. Susan C. Waters (1823-1900) was among the first female painters in the United States to be successful supporting both herself and her husband during her lifetime.

When her female contemporaries were masking their gender by purposely signing their works with initials instead of first names, Waters preferred to sign her paintings “Mrs. Susan C. Waters” or “Mrs. S.C. Waters” in a legible, cursive hand. Her early portraits were signed on the reverse, inscribed with the names of the sitters, and the date. When she reemerged as an animal, landscape, and still life painter, the artist signed her paintings on the front for the rest of her career, a trailblazer making her mark during the birth of the women’s suffrage movement.

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Comparison of Susan C. Waters signatures: Left – b/w image of verso of portrait of Helen Kingman, 1845, #17 in 1980 exhibition catalogue for “Susan C. Waters, 19th-Century Itinerant Painter;” Right – signature on recto of Susan Catherine Moore Waters (American, 1823-1900), Chickens and Raspberries, c.1880, NSLM Collection, Gift of The Phelan Collection, 2012.

Waters was born Susan Catherine Moore in Binghamton, New York, in 1823 and lived in the Quaker community of Friendsville, Pennsylvania. At the age of fifteen she attended the local female seminary school there. Notably, Susan showed early artistic talent earning tuition for both herself and her sister by painting copies for the Natural History Department. Little is known about her formal artistic training, although according to her obituary, printed in  the Bordentown Register on July 27, 1900, “she was considered a prodigy by her teachers” at the seminary.

In 1841 Susan married William Church Waters, also from the Friendsville Quaker community, and they remained together for 52 years until his death in 1893. Her husband encouraged Susan to become an itinerant portrait painter. She produced numerous folk art portraits between 1843 and 1846, traveling throughout northern Pennsylvania and Southern New York with her husband. Several of her portraits show an early facility for portraying animals.

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Susan Catherine Moore Waters (American, 1823 – 1900), Brothers, c. 1845 (and detail on right), oil on canvas, 44 x 34 15/16 inches, National Gallery of Art, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch
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Susan Catherine Moore Waters (American, 1823 – 1900), Henry L. Wells, 1845 (and detail on right), oil on canvas, 45 1/4 x 28 3/8 inches, National Gallery of Art, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch

The last known portrait during this early phase of Water’s career is dated 1846. Her husband William’s failing health began to impede their travels. With the rise of photography people were also beginning to turn away from commissioning portraits and towards sitting for photographs. Mr. and Mrs. Waters capitalized on this by becoming ambrotype and daguerreotype photographers for the next decade.

Susan also taught painting and drawing, but her focus returned to her own work. A revealing letter she wrote from Friendsville in 1851, to the Honorary Secretary of the American Art-Union in New York requesting a reference, provides a glimpse into the couple’s circumstances and her goals for her career. She noted:

Owing to my husband’s ill health I am prevented from following my usual occupation. (i.e. teaching painting) therefore I am obliged to seek some other way of turning my time to profit, in order to keep up with our expenses…by the sale of oil paintings.

Susan made no mention of her time as an itinerant painter but instead referred to two landscapes she had “sketched from nature” to submit to the Art-Union. There is no record of her works having been accepted, but landscapes that Waters painted and sold during this time set the stage for her artistic transition.

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Susan Caroline Moore Waters (American, 1823-1900), Landscape with Cows and Stream, oil on canvas, 29 3/4 x 41 1/2 inches (sight size), signed Mrs. Susan C. Waters, lr [image source: Cowan’s Auctions on-line catalog, Fine and Decorative Art: Live Salesroom Auction, 3/10/18, lot 10]
The Waters required additional income to complete a home they were building in the early 1850s in the Quaker community of Bordentown, New Jersey, although they did not settle there until over a decade later in 1866. It is here where Waters became known for her paintings of sheep, other domesticated and wild animals, and still lifes with the constant encouragement and support of her ailing husband. She kept her studio in Bordentown for the next thirty years. It is also here that she became active with the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association, of which she was elected recording secretary in 1871.

In 1876 Waters continued to blaze new trails as an exhibitor at the prestigious International Exhibition held in Philadelphia that year in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Her oil painting, Still Life – Mallard Ducks, is listed as no. 1075 in the catalogue with an asterisk next to the title indicating the painting was for sale.

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Official Catalogue of US International Exhibition 1876 published by John R. Nagle and Company. Left: Cover; Right Top: Dept. IV. – Art – United States. p. 47 and detail; Right Bottom: “Art Gallery, Or Memorial Hall” illustration, frontispiece for “Part II. Art Gallery, Annexes, and Outdoor Works of Art.” [ source: https://archive.org/details/officialcatalogu00cent ]
The National Sporting Library & Museum’s oil painting, Chickens and Raspberries,  c. 1880 shows how refined Waters’ technique had become.

Susan Catherine Moore Waters (American, 1823-1900), Chickens and Raspberries, c.1880
oil on canvas, 24 x 16 1/2 inches, NSLM Collection, Gift of The Phelan Collection, 2012

Mrs. Susan B. Waters – artist, wife, and suffragette – died in 1900 at the age of 77 after a long and storied career. She continued to paint until a few months prior to her passing. “Her character was as beautiful as her paintings… her talent she could not bequeath,” noted her  July 27, 1900 obituary.  Waters left behind a body of work, a reputation, and a legacy that made her an icon ahead of her time as well as a noteworthy figure in women’s history and art history.

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Mrs. Susan C. Waters, c. 1880, Bordentown Historical Society, Bordentown, NJ. [ image source: https://www.mullenbooks.com/pictures/6756_3.jpg?v=1487612703 ]

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