Those of you who have been on a tour of the Library’s F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room will be familiar with our collection of fore-edge books. We always include one of these on tours as the lovely paintings hidden on their edges, and visible only when the pages are fanned, never fail to impress. These paintings were added after the book was published and typically the artist is unknown. Very often we display a copy of the Bible, published in 1839, that shows a hawking scene when its pages are fanned.

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Bible (1839) with fore edge painting, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Recently I made a connection between this fore-edge painting and another item in the Library’s collection which reveals the artist’s inspiration if not their identity. Compare the image above with this one by Henry Alken…

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The National Sports of Britain, Hawking, Henry Alken (1821). National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

While the fore-edge painting has been simplified, it is clearly the same image. Henry Alken’s version was published in The National Sports of Great Britain in 1821. The Bible with the corresponding fore-edge painting wasn’t published until 1839, and the fore-edge painting would have been added after that date. The artist must have been a fan of Alken’s work. They wouldn’t have been alone.

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Book plate in The National Sports of Great Britain, Henry Alken (1823). National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Henry Alken (1785 – 1851) was a prolific painter and illustrator. The Library holds upwards of 60 volumes of his work. His subjects included all varieties of sporting topics as well as coaching scenes. He created numerous sets of etchings, often hand colored, depicting sporting scenes.

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Sporting Sketches, Henry Alken (1817). National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

He also specialized in comical vignettes or satirical illustrations such as this image from Hunting or Six Hours Sport (1823), titled Breaking Covert.

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Hunting or Six Hours Sport, Henry Alken (1823). The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

One of the things I love the most about Alken’s work isn’t actually any part of his images but rather the publisher that he frequently partnered with to produce his books. Thomas McLean, a publisher based in London, used the added sobriquet, Repository of Wit and Humour. Now this is a person I would love to meet at a party! I really must come up with a similar tagline myself. Perhaps, Keeper of Curiosities and Wonders?

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Hunting or Six Hours Sport, Henry Alken (1823). National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

In addition to extensive holdings of Alken’s published works, the Library has two items containing his original work. The first gives an interesting insight into Alken’s process.  It’s titled Cartoons and is a collection of preliminary stick figure sketches that would eventually be fleshed out into the finished images in his published works.

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Cartoons, Henry Alken. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Here’s a close up of two images, both of which were destined to be part of Alken’s comical works.

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“Keep Up Your Muzzle,” from Cartoons, Henry Alken. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.
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“Endeavouring to Stop.” Cartoons, Henry Alken. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The other volume of original works is a collection of drawings, paintings, and watercolors. It’s called Horses: Original Drawings. Here are two examples. The first is a watercolor.

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Horses: Original Drawings, Henry Alken. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The second is a drawing.

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Horses: Original Drawings, Henry Alken. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

If you would like to explore the Library’s holdings of Alken’s work, I would be happy to oblige. Nearly all of it is housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room so please contact us to make an appointment before you visit.


SONY DSCErica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail

 

 

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Today’s highlight from the Library collection is a scrapbook of lithographed plates by sporting illustrator Henry Alken (1785-1851). Alken was a leading illustrator of sporting topics in England during his lifetime, working in engravings as well as oils and watercolors. This Sporting Scrap Book (published in 1824 by Thomas McLean) features fifty plates that include complete scenes and image collages on many different country sports.

The plates in this scrapbook feature a wide variety of subjects. What might be considered non sequitur today made logical sense in Alken's time: shooting, foxhunting, and riding were all connected as leisure pursuits of the landed classes.
The plates in this scrapbook feature a wide variety of subjects. What might be considered non sequitur today made logical sense in Alken’s time: shooting, foxhunting, and riding were all connected as leisure pursuits of the landed classes.
The Sporting Scrap Book is one of dozens of early and first editions of Alken’s work collected by John Daniels. Today, the book is housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room on the Library’s Lower Level.
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Alken’s work is very flexible; he could be humorous and satirical, but he also possessed the ability to capture subjects seriously as well.
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Very business-like hounds. Many breeds of dogs served specific roles as hunters.
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Look closely! A hare hides in the grass. Other popular quarry for hunters included fox and badger.

If you’d like to learn more about the development of hunting and shooting (and the dogs that made it all possible), don’t miss our ongoing exhibition, “Side-by-Side with Gun & Dog” at the Museum until March 20. Can’t visit us before then? The Side-by-Side catalog is available for purchase now so you can enjoy the artwork from home!

Today we have five great artists to highlight, as they’re all connected in one way: they each have works available for purchase through this year’s NSLM Annual Auction. The Auction is an annual fundraiser for NSLM, and proceeds go to the support of our collections. Thanks to a generous donor, this year’s Auction has some significant selections from great artists, and they make perfect holiday gifts for the sporting enthusiasts in your life! The Auction continues to November 8, so be sure to contact us soon to get involved.

Frank W. Benson

The Alarm” 1917, by Frank W. Benson. Etching on paper.

Frank W. Benson (1862-1951) was a fantastic sporting artist and American impressionist from Massachusetts. He is credited as the founder of the school of the American sporting print and one of the most accomplished artists to work within that genre. Benson studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and in 1883 the Académie Julien in Paris. He produced oil and watercolor paintings as well as etchings of wildfowl. The influence of impressionism on his work is often apparent in his sporting etchings.

William Schaldach

Pheasant,” by William Schaldach. Etching on paper.

Born in Elkhart, Indiana, William J. Schaldach (1896-1982) was an avid angler and wildfowl hunter from a very young age. In his 20s, Schaldach moved to New York to study art. He established himself as a talented watercolorist, but he continued to take lessons for years, learning etching and drypoint. By the 1930s he was a regular contributor to magazines such as Field and StreamAmerican Forests, and Outdoor Life. He wrote and edited several books on art, including a 1945 biography of sporting artist Carl Rungius.

Roland Clark

The Last Round” 1928, by Roland Clark. Etching on paper.

Roland Clark (1874-1957) was known primarily for his etchings of game birds, and he gained great familiarity with those species through a life of waterfowl hunting. Though waterfowl hunting around was his great passion, Clark was also an enthusiastic angler, rider, and sailor. His work draws mainly on sketches from life in the field, and collections of his many etchings were used in his books recounting his experiences hunting.

Aiden Lassell Ripley

Grouse Shooting” 1937, by Aiden Lassell Ripley. Etching on paper.

Aiden Lassell Ripley (1896-1969) was born in Boston; his father was a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Though Ripley showed promise as a musician (playing piano and tuba), he chose art instead. He joined the army during World War I, and after his discharge he studied with Frank Benson at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts to specialize in landscapes. Ripley adapted his art to incorporate sporting scenes during the Great Depression, as sales of sporting art remained relatively strong throughout the period. The adaptation stayed with him, and Ripley continued to portray game birds and sporting scenes throughout his career.

Robin Hill

Baltimore Oriole” 1974, by Robin Hill. Lithograph on Paper.

Robin Hill (b. 1932) was born in Australia before his family moved to England. Throughout his childhood, Hill spent many hours outdoors finding freedom from the restrictions of school. He trained in art at Wimbledon School of Art and the National Gallery of Art School, as well as the Royal Melbourne College. His love of nature and passion for the outdoors led him to focus exclusively on painting and writing about natural history. That passion is reflected in his meticulous attention to detail in his portrayal of wildfowl. Although Hill is best known for his paintings of birds, he has also expanded his repertoire to include paintings of dogs, farm animals, and other wildlife. He continues to produce wonderful artwork from his studio in Washington, D.C.


Works by all five of these artists are available for purchase through the NSLM Annual Auction. The Annual Auction, composed of duplicates from the Library collections, will continue until November 8. Contact John Connolly, the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian for more information.