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

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.

British Sporting Paintings of the Stephen Penkhus Collection
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

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.


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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