In the 17th and 18th centuries, the men of England were assaulted by a new and uncomfortable sight: women in masculine clothing! Even worse, these were upper class ladies, and they had donned cavalry-inspired costume to invade the male-dominated pastimes of riding and foxhunting. These daring women were often called ‘Amazons’ and were sometimes ridiculed for their riding habits. In 1666 Samuel Pepys lamented that, if not for their long skirts, these ladies wouldn’t be recognized as women at all! About fifty years later, Richard Steele satirically suggested that Amazons should “complete their triumph over us, by wearing breeches.”

James Seymour (British, 1702 – 1752), A Lady and a Gentleman Riding Out, c. 1740, gouache on paper, 5 5/8 x 7 1/8 inches, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Riding habits first emerged in the 16th and 17th centuries as women’s clothing became increasingly restrictive. They needed specific garments- riding habits- in order to sit a horse comfortably and safely. In the 18th century, skilled horsemanship was the domain of the cavalry, and upper class-women adopted the waistcoat, cutaway coat, and simple trims for equestrian pursuit. Ladies were able to wear lightly boned stays which allowed greater range of motion for riding sidesaddle, and durable wool took the place of flowing silk.

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Thomas Gooch (British, 1750 – 1802), Marcia Pitt and Her Brother George Pitt, Later second Baron Rivers, Riding in the Park at Stratfield Saye House, Hampshire, 1782, oil on canvas, 27 1/8 x 25 1/8 inches, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Despite the lamentations of their male contemporaries, riding habits grew to be popular attire throughout the 1700’s. In fact, Ladies began wearing their habits and other equestrian-inspired fashion as informal gowns, no longer restricted to the hunt field. Ladies made this masculine fashion distinctly feminine, expanding the feminine sphere to include historically unwomanly interests.

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Francis Wheatley (British 1747–1801), Mrs. Stevens, c. 1795, oil on canvas, 26 x 18 ½ inches. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

For example, in the image above, Mrs. Stevens wears a simply cut cavalry coat in fashionable dove gray. We can see that it is tailored to fit tightly, and it is not worn over a masculine style waistcoat. Instead it is pinned to a stomacher, or decorative panel worn over the front of the stays (18th century corset). Likewise, she is sitting serenely in a grove of trees, complete with a stag running in the background. This portrait takes the typical salon portrait of young women day dreaming on padded chairs and wrapped in billowing ruffles and frills, and completely turns it on its head. Here is a new kind of woman, feminine but unafraid of the world around her.

Women in western history have broken rules and changed norms for centuries, and sidesaddle riding and fashion are just one example of that social evolution.

Want to learn more? Visit Sidesaddle, 1690-1935 at NSLM or join us for these programs:

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Today we will take a break from writing about the Annual Auction and featured Spring exhibition to cast a spotlight on a subject we haven’t discussed in awhile: The Horse in Ancient Greek Art. Yes, it may seem like ancient history by now, but even though the exhibition left Middleburg in January, it continues to engage and inspire viewers across the state and around the globe.

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Attributed to the Sappho Painter, Greek (Attic), Black-Figure White Ground Lekythos, ca. 510 BCE, Terracotta, Private Collection

In fact, the exhibition was just named the 2017 New Tourism Event of the Year by Visit Loudoun. The award goes to organizations that demonstrate exceptional work in bringing cultural and economic value to the area. The Horse in Ancient Greek Art was Loudoun County’s first exhibition of ancient artwork. During its 16 week stay in Middleburg, the exhibition was seen by visitors from 211 different zip codes, including 30 states and 9 foreign countries.

 

For many visitors, this was their first introduction to NSLM, and their first introduction to sporting art. When planning the exhibition, the idea of interpreting ancient artwork in an organization whose oldest artifact dates to 1523 was daunting. However, the comparison between ancient and modern equestrian imagery connected visitors to the artwork in fascinating ways.

 

Though separated by tens of thousands of miles and thousands of years, the people, animals, and places shown on ancient Greek pottery are familiar to anyone visiting hunt country today.

 

The Horse in Ancient Greek Art is now on view at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia. Between visitors at NSLM and VMFA, the show has been seen by nearly 75,000 individuals since September! In Richmond, the show is on view near the other ancient art galleries. Understanding Greek pottery within the context of other ancient Mediterranean cultures adds a new layer of interpretation to the exhibition. The Horse in Ancient Greek Art has been featured in The Wall Street Journal and has been called a “must-see” event.

 

Can’t wait to visit? Join NSLM on a special “Site-Seeing” trip to visit Agecroft Hall and The Horse in Ancient Greek Art at VMFA.


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Anne Marie Paquette is the Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM). Her passion for museum work began shortly after graduation with a Bachelor’s degree in History from James Madison University. Between her expeience working at the Fredericksburg Area Museum & Cultural Center and the Washington Heritage Museums, she has done everything from designing summer camps to formulating major fundraisers. Have a question? Contact Anne Marie by e-mail

If you are at all familiar with the village of Middleburg, you have likely seen iconic images of the Middleburg Hunt and hound parade in the snow. It just doesn’t feel like the holiday season has begun in this region until Christmas in Middleburg takes place on the first Saturday every December. The celebration brings people from far and wide to enjoy this spectacle as well as the traditional afternoon Christmas parade with brightly-colored floats, a variety of horse-drawn vehicles, and other animals. Even Santa Claus arrives on a four-in-hand.

Although we did not experience a magical snow this past Saturday, there was no shortage of holiday cheer for the festivities. Partnering with the National Sporting Library & Museum, Colonial Williamsburg’s Director of Coach and Livestock Paul Bennett brought and drove the historic city’s Wythe Chariot, a highlight of the parade.

Partnering with the NSLM, Colonial Williamsburg made a special appearance in the Middleburg Christmas Parade on December 2, 2017, with the recently-restored Wythe Chariot driven by Director of Coach and Livestock Paul Bennett.

The royal blue livery brought to mind a wintry, 19th-century French print in the NSLM’s collection…

(after) Henri d’Ainecy, Comte de Montpezat (French, 1817 – 1859), La vie d’un Gentilhomme en toutes Saisons: Hiver (one of a set of four), hand-colored aquatint, 21 ½ x 30 ¾ inches, engraved by Jazet, Paris; published by Goupil et Vibert, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Norman R. Bobins, 2012

Subtitled Hiver (Winter), the hand-colored aquatint is one of a set of four in the series, La vie d’un Gentilhomme en toutes Saisons (The Life of a Gentleman in All Seasons). First published in 1846, each print depicts a different season of carriage driving in France. The original paintings from which the engravings were made were by Henri Auguste d’ Ainecy, Comte de Montpezat, a French sporting and animal artist.

(after) Henri d’Ainecy, Comte de Montpezat (French, 1817 – 1859) La vie d’un Gentilhomme en toutes Saisons: Hiver (Detail)

The snowy scene shows two postilions, each riding the near post-horse of a double team at a fast pace. (It is typical to ride the left horse of a pair since horses are trained to be mounted from the near side.) The riders are wearing the unmistakable rigid boots of their profession to protect their legs from being injured. Posting was a common mode of transit in England and on the Continent before trains. Postilions were hired through postmasters and traveled from post house to post house, on successive legs of a journey. Tired riders and horses were replaced as needed along the way.

(after) Henri d’Ainecy, Comte de Montpezat (French, 1817 – 1859), La vie d’un Gentilhomme en toutes Saisons: Hiver (Detail)

The carriage depicted is a shooting phaeton, a four-wheel open carriage with room for four passengers, game, and a compartment with ventilation under the seat to transport gun dogs.  Snow flies up from the wheels as the sportsmen return from a successful day afield. The gamekeeper, bundled up in a fur coat with a powder flask at his side, points to a village in the distance. A huntsman and the gentleman holding a shotgun enjoy a cigar while the fourth companion wearing a buttoned-up frock coat and a brimmed cap, crosses his arms, bracing himself against the cold. A gun dog peeks out from the gentleman’s lap blanket while another alert dog is at the front of the carriage. The vehicle is filled with a mixed bag  – a plentiful variety of hare, pheasant, duck, partridge, snipe, and stag – and game bags hang from the back.

Although it’s not a one-horse open sleigh, the scene conjures a line from the classic American melody, Jingle Bells. “Dashing through the snow…”  Carriages, wheeled and sleighs alike, are icons of a long-gone era, but still strongly resonate with the sentiment of the season. Thank you to our friends at Colonial Williamsburg for journeying to Middleburg and “making spirits bright.”

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!


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

The Horse and the Camera from the Judith and Jo Tartt, Jr. Photography Collection
exhibition on view at the National Sporting Library & Museum through January 7, 2018

Whether you love or hate taking selfies, it is hard to imagine a time before photography and the easy access we now have to the news, sports, and images of them. From the first static images, human imagination has turned the camera towards everything from the epic to the mundane. A breakneck evolution of photography has continued to advance since the first grainy, permanent photographic image was produced circa 1827. Developments saw stiff portraits become sharp-as-a-tack studies of motion within 50 years, and the twentieth century brought the wide-spread distribution of them. The history of the development of equestrian sport photography may be traced with photographs in The Horse and the Camera from the Judith and Jo Tartt, Jr. Photography Collection exhibition on view at the National Sporting Library & Museum through January 7, 2018.

Beginning with the patenting of the tintype, by American innovator Hamilton Smith in 1856, photographic portraiture was quickly popularized across the United States. The medium allowed for the production of an image within minutes and gave rise to itinerant photographers who traveled from town-to-town, capturing affordable portraits of people and their prized possessions such as the horse.

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Gentleman and Lady in Carriage, c. 1880, tintype, 6 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches, on loan from the Judith & Jo Tartt, Jr. Photography Collection

It was difficult to produce sharp images with early methods of photography, since they required the sitter to be motionless for extended periods of time. The very nature of the medium dictated that the results were stiff and posed compositions.

How then did we come to really understand what a horse looks like when it is jumping, trotting, or galloping? The immediate answer that might come to mind is the name, Eadweard Muybridge. His 1877-8 series of photographic studies revolutionized the way the world views the horse, other animals, and humans in motion.

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Eadweard Muybridge (English, 1830-1904), Horse and Rider, c. 1890, collotype, 19 x 24 1/8 inches, on loan from the Judith & Jo Tartt, Jr. Photography Collection

As the story goes, famed photographer Muybridge was hired by the entrepreneur and horse breeder Leland Stanford, auspiciously to settle a bet about whether or not all four hooves of a galloping horse were simultaneously off the ground at any time during the sequence of the gait. The question was a photographic paradox. In the 1870’s, the medium remained an inherently slow and precise process. How could one reliably capture motion with it?

In response, Muybridge devised an industrious and pioneering setup of twelve large-format glass plate cameras spaced apart (The example above is a later twenty-camera version). He outfitted the cameras with innovative and reliable shutters of his own design, tripwires, and plates coated with an extremely light-sensitive emulsion. The combination made a 1/500th second exposure possible.

The technological breakthrough led to a cascade of other camera and film innovations within the following decades, for both consumer-grade and professional equipment and film.

The first photo-finishes forever changed the way races were decided…

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Harness Race Finish, Roosevelt Raceway, 1945, gelatin silver print, 10 x 8 inches, photo Milton Platnick, Hempstead, Long Island, NY, on loan from the Judith & Jo Tartt, Jr. Photography Collection

The implementation of the wirephoto service nationally by the 1920s made it possible to disseminate notable and newsworthy images across the country with ease…

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Miss Barbara Worth Performs a Cossack Jump, 1933, gelatin silver print, 7 x 9 inches, photo wire caption: Spectacular Jumps This Girl’s Forte. Miss Barbara Worth not only is prominent in California society, but is known as the owner and trainer of some of the best jumping horses in the state. She does more than train, however– she rides them. This photo shows Miss Worth with shortened stirrups executing a difficult Cossack jump. 6-26-33, on loan from the Judith & Jo Tartt, Jr. Photography Collection

…and the result in the twentieth century was that sports photography overtook illustration.

Pimlico Steeplechase, “Mergler Takes a Spill Off Capital Torch Song,” 1941, gelatin silver print marked with pen, crop marks, and gouache, 9 x 12 5/8 inches, on loan from the Judith & Jo Tartt, Jr. Photography Collection

The history of the development of equestrian sport photography is just one of the many threads that runs through The Horse and the Camera from the Judith and Jo Tartt, Jr. Photography Collection exhibition. The intimate survey is comprised of almost 70 tintypes, photogravures, albumen prints, gelatin silver prints, and collotypes created from the 1870s to the 1960s. Works are on loan from the Judith and Jo Tartt, Jr. Photography Collection of over 150 vintage and antique photographic images. The exhibition is made possible through the generous support of Mr. & Mrs. Charles T. Akre.

To learn more about the exhibition, join us for an Evening with The Horse & the Camera on Friday, September 29, 2017 at 6:30 pm for a reception and exhibition talk. Photography expert Jo Tartt, Jr. and the NSLM’s George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art Claudia Pfeiffer will explore how advancements in cameras, black & white film, and stop-motion photography captured human imagination and the horse at rest and in motion. RSVP to ABarnes@NationalSporting.org or 540.687.6542 ext. 25


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

When I first saw the oil study of Proctor Knott winning the First Futurity stakes held at Sheepshead Bay on Long Island in 1888, I didn’t immediately realize that the painting’s title referred to the name of the horse, not the jockey. Shelby “Pike” Barnes was up, one of several leading African-Americans in the sport at the end of the 19th century and the first to win over 200 races in one season (Read more about Pike Barnes’ record-breaking career on the National Museum of Racing & Hall of Fame website). Following closely in second place was Salvator ridden by Tony Hamilton, another leading black jockey. The purse collected by the winning race horse’s owner was a whopping $40,900 (over $1,000,000 today), the highest race earnings at the time.

Louis Maurer (American, 1832 – 1932), Proctor Knott (The First Futurity, 1888, Jerome Park, Sheepshead Bay, a Close Finish), c. 1888, oil on canvas, 12 ½ x 18 ⅛ inches, Gift of The Margaret Kendrick Blodgett Foundation in memory of Peter Winants, Director Emeritus of the National Sporting  Library, 2001

The hunched figures in the oil study by Louis Maurer in the National Sporting Library & Museum’s permanent collection may be construed by viewers as caricatures, especially in light of the fact that the artist drew conservative political cartoons that are blatantly racist and denigrating by today’s standards. Currier and Ives published them leading up to Republican Abraham Lincoln’s presidential election in 1860. One of the most extreme examples is titled An Heir to the Throne, Or the Next Republican Candidate.

The Library of Congress’s description for the image: “The Republicans’ purported support of Negro rights is taken to an extreme here. Editor Horace Greeley (left) and candidate Abraham Lincoln (resting his elbow on a rail at right) stand on either side of a short black man holding a spear. The latter is the deformed African man recently featured at P.T. Barnum’s Museum on Broadway as the “What-is-it.” (A poster for this attraction appears on the wall behind.) Greeley says, “Gentlemen allow me to introduce to you, this illustrious individual in whom you will find combined, all the graces, and virtues of Black Republicanism, and whom we propose to run as our next Candidate for the Presidency.” Lincoln muses, “How fortunate! that this intellectual and noble creature should have been discovered just at this time, to prove to the world the superiority of the Colored over the Anglo Saxon race, he will be a worthy successor to carry out the policy which I shall inaugurate.” The black man wonders, “What, can dey be?” Source and image: https://www.loc.gov/resource/cph.3a05736/

Although this is difficult imagery to associate with Currier & Ives and Louis Maurer, the successful lithography firm’s company policy was business before politics. They produced satire expressing sentiments held across the political spectrum. For example, Maurer drew a pro-Lincoln cartoon, The Political Oyster House, also published by the firm in the same year.

Currier & Ives was much more widely known for creating a market for its broad variety of affordable art prints than for its caricatures. Among the last images Maurer contributed to the firm was the completed painting of the 1888 First Futurity race upon which the NSLM’s oil study was based. It was reproduced as a large chromolithograph titled The Futurity Race at Sheepshead Bay to appeal to middle-class collectors who could afford the image that commemorated an important moment in racing history.

inscribed: To the Coney Island Jockey Club this print of The Futurity Race at Sheepshead Bay. Sept 3, 1888. Value $50,000 Won by Proctor Knott is dedicated by the publishers. Painted by L. Maurer. Copyright 1889 By Currier & Ives, New York. Printed in oil colors and published by Currier & Ives, 115 Nassau St. N.Y.  Proctor Knott (Barnes) Salvator (Hamilton) Galen (Turner), Image and source: https://www.loc.gov/resource/pga.00720/

The large original oil on canvas is in the collection of the National Museum of Racing & Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York. The painting and print reveal a stylistic consistency between the depiction of the African-American and Caucasian jockeys portrayed in the composition with the crowd in the distance focused on the action of the race.

It’s hard to imagine now, but Sheepshead Bay was in the racing capitol of the United States. From 1879 and 1910, three venues were established in Brooklyn within miles of one another which were accessible by new rail lines. The Brighton Beach track opened in 1879; then the picturesque dirt and turf tracks at Sheepshead Bay were begun in 1880 and 1886 respectively (where the First Futurity took place). The Gravesend Track operated by the Brooklyn Jockey Club was started in 1886. These tracks attracted sportsmen and race-goers from across all walks of life to Coney Island.

Louis Maurer (American, 1832 – 1932) First Futurity (detail), 1888, oil on canvas, 36 x 60 inches, National Museum of Racing & Hall of Fame’s Permanent Collection, Gift of George D. Widener. Image Source: https://www.racingmuseum.org/sites/default/files/styles/front_page_rotator/public/1955.15-1140×500.jpg?itok=Lfxvfux4

At the height of their popularity, the races drew as many as 40,000 spectators to the region during the season of May through October. The booming flat racing industry was fueled by sportsmen and supported by jockeys, trainers, grooms, and stable hands who traveled there seasonally. A community of hospitality workers also arose.

Many of these working-class men and women were African-Americans facing the rising tide of racism that would soon culminate in the spread of segregation laws across the United States by the early twentieth century. While race relations were  complex, Louis Maurer’s painting, oil study, and print of the 1888 First Futurity as well as works by other artists of the era capture a slice of history to be embraced and honored for what they represent, a time when African Americans dominated the sport of racing as acclaimed  top athletes and were depicted in this historically significant role.

To read more about this topic, please see They Rode to WinClarice & Robert H. Smith Educator Anne Marie Barnes’s blog and the upcoming public program on June 13, 2017, Race Forms: African-American Jockeys in Eadweard Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion and Gilded Age Philadelphia by Dr. John Ott, a part of the Heroes & Underdogs lecture series.


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

In the racing world, horses and jockeys are the heroes of the track. Amid trainers, grooms, and thousands of spectators, no individual is easier to identify than the brightly-clad jockey. They are a symbol of power, skill, and grace, a psychological link between man and horse. African-American jockeys are no exception.

Early American racing history was directly shaped by black hands. Slaves and freed men alike raced and trained Thoroughbreds throughout the country. After the Civil War, former slaves became paid jockeys and stable staff at the farms and plantations where they grew up taking care of the horses. Their knowledge of and connection with race horses were an underpinning of American racing, and many races featuring African-American jockeys, often in equal number to white competitors. In fact, in the first 28 runnings of the Kentucky Derby (1875-1903), 15 of the winners were African-American.

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Edward Muybridge, The Horse in motion. “Sallie Gardner,” owned by Leland Stanford; running at a 1:40 gait over the Palo Alto track, 19th June 1878 , albumen, 1878, Library of Congress. 
Muybridge’s early photographic records of black jockeys and boxers show conflicting messages in 19th century race relations. They perpetuate imagery of African-American strength and obedience, while also representing the social mobility of successful black individuals within those sports.

Men like Isaac Murphy, Oliver Lewis, Shelby “Pike” Barnes, and many others used the stereotype of black athleticism to garner respect and greater social and economic freedom. Some were able to negotiate salaries of up to $400,000 in today’s money, an income almost unheard of for black Americans at the time. They raced with a passion familiar to all sport lovers. After an 1890 win at Sheepshead Bay, Isaac Murphy told a reporter simply, “I ride to win.”

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Louis Maurer (American, 1832-1932) Proctor Knott (The First Futurity, 1888, Jerome Park, Sheepshead Bay, a Close Finish), 1888, oil on canvas, 13 1/4 x 19 inches
Gift of the Margaret Kendrick Blodgett Foundation, at the request of Mrs. Blodgett’s granddaughter, Margaret Hall Whitfield, in honor of Peter Winants, Director Emeritus of the National Sporting Library, 2001
      Favored to win, Proctor Knott with Shelby “Pike” Barnes up takes 1st place at the 1888 First Futurity and a record $40,000 purse. Barnes was the leading U.S. jockey in both 1888 and 1889. He was also the first jockey to win over 200 races in a year and was among several successful African-American jockeys that dominated the sport in the late 19th century. Barnes was inducted into the National Museum of Racing & Hall of Fame in 2011.

 

However, the heyday of black American jockeys came to an end. Jim Crow laws and 1896’s “separate but equal” ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson made it harder and harder for black jockeys to find employment. While African-Americans were welcome trainers, grooms, and stable hands throughout the 20th century, they were often shut out from the more visible and lucrative position of jockey. Although tracks are now desegregated and several black jockeys have been elected into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame, there are significantly fewer African-American wearing silks today. According to a 2013 Jockey’s Guild study, there are only about 30 African-Americans in a membership of nearly 1,000 individuals.

Andre Pater (Polish, American, b. 1953) Going to the Post, 2011, oil on canvas, 24 x 28 inches, Collection of Nils and Samantha Brous © Andre Pater.
Contemporary sporting artist Andre Pater began incorporating African Americans into his work in acknowledgment of the previously marginalized black jockeys of the 19th century.

 

Andre Pater (Polish, American, b. 1953) Jockey Up, Turquoise and Gold Silks, pastel on board, 34 x 24 inches, 2008. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Jose Laudo De Camargo © Andre Pater

Racing contributions and successes by black jockeys demonstrate the value of representation- both on the track and on canvas. African-American jockeys in the closing years of the 19th century dominated the sport in many ways. Yes, they won countless races and took home impressive purses. But they also showed – and still show – great tenacity and passion. They are smart, skilled, and talented competitors whose achievements continue to inspire us.

Want to know more about African-American jockeys and Gilded Age imagery? Join us on June 13th for a Heroes & Underdogs talk with Dr. John Ott of James Madison University. Dr. Ott will be presenting “Race Forms: African-American Jockeys in Eadweard Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion and Gilded Age Philadelphia”.

 


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Anne Marie Barnes is the Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM). Her passion for museum work began shortly after graduation with a Bachelor’s degree in History from James Madison University. Between her expeience working at the Fredericksburg Area Museum & Cultural Center and the Washington Heritage Museums, she has done everything from designing summer camps to formulating major fundraisers. Have a question? Contact Anne Marie by e-mail

 

This weekend I’ll be going to the Virginia Foxhound Show.  It will be my first time at a hound show and although I’ll be going with someone knowledgeable, I’ve been doing a little homework and thought I’d pass along what I’ve learned thus far.

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The Virginia Foxhound Club Hound Show at Mrs. Marion DuPont Scott’s “Montpelier,” Orange , Virginia, 1959, by Jean Bowman. National Sporting Library and Museum, Archive Collection (MC0040).

The developmental history of foxhound breeds can and has filled volumes.  The English foxhound was developed through the cross breeding of several varieties of hounds used to hunt hare and stag.  The goal was to create a pack hound with nose and stamina enough to hunt the red fox across long distances, with mounted hunters following behind.  As the story goes, the American foxhound’s development began with a pack of hounds imported to the colonies by Robert Brooke in 1650. Over the next 200 years additional imports of English, French, and Irish hounds were crossbred with the American hounds ultimately resulting in the modern American foxhound.

Although both the English and American foxhounds were developed to hunt fox, breeders select for traits most beneficial in their local terrain.  This divergent selection has resulted in hounds with distinctly different physical characteristics.  The best summation of this difference that I found is that, American foxhounds are the Thoroughbred of foxhounds, while the English are Percherons.

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Example of an American Foxhound.  Taken from The American Foxhound Club 1975 calendar. National Sporting Library and Museum archive collection (MC0020)

American foxhounds should have a slightly domed skull, long, large ears, large eyes, straight muzzle, well laid-back shoulders, a moderately long back, fox-like feet, and a slightly curved tail.

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Example of an English foxhound.  Taken from The American Foxhound Club 1973 calendar. National Sporting Library and Museum archive collection (MC0020)

By comparison, the English foxhound is a bit shorter and more heavily built.  They have a wider skull and long muzzle.  Their ears are noticeably shorter and higher set than the American hounds, and their legs are muscular and straight-boned, with rounded, almost cat-like paws.

While hound shows can be interesting to the layperson, and are certainly social events for the groups involved, their main purpose is to further refine the development of the breeds.  It is an opportunity for breeders to see what others have accomplished, and to display their own successes.  Bloodlines with favorable traits are identified and plans are made to add them to breeding programs.

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Program for the first Virginia Foxhound Show, 1934.  National Sporting Library and Museum archive collection (MC0071)

The first Virginia Foxhound Show was associated with the American Foxhound Club and was held in 1934 at the Montpelier estate of Mrs. Marion DuPont Scott.  The meet was suspended during WWII and did not resume until 1955 at which time it was run by the newly formed Virginia Foxhound Club.   The show continued at Montpelier until 1961 when it was moved to the Upperville Horse Show grounds.  In 1965 it was relocated for several years to William W. Brainard, Jr.’s  estate, Glenara, near Marshall.  Finally it settled at Oatlands in 1970 and remained there until 1996 when it moved to its current location at Morven Park.

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This emblem decorates the silver cups presented as trophies in The Virginia Hound Show.  National Sporting Library and Museum archive collection (MC0040)

Although the show originally focused only on American Foxhounds, in the late 1960s it began to open up and now features American, English, Cross-bred, and Penn-Marydel Foxhounds.  Today the Virginia Foxhound Show is the largest sanctioned hound show in the world.

Here’s what I’ve been told to expect at the show.  All handlers wear long white coats.  Those showing English hounds, sport bowler hats, while all others use riding helmets.  English hounds are shown off leash, showcasing natural movement.

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Taken from The American Foxhound Club 1974 calendar. National Sporting Library and Museum archive collection (MC0020)

There are contests for the best of both sexes of, individual hounds, couples of hounds, and parent/offspring, within each class, American, English, Cross-bred, and Penn-Marydel.  The hounds are judged for conformation to an ideal breed standard.

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Taken from The American Foxhound Club 1969 calendar. National Sporting Library and Museum archive collection (MC0020)
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Taken from The American Foxhound Club 1972 calendar. National Sporting Library and Museum archive collection (MC0020)

There are also pack classes of five couple of hounds.  These are judged as a unit on uniformity, conformation, and way of moving; on the obedience of hounds to huntsman; and on the responsiveness of hounds to huntsman.

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Taken from The American Foxhound Club 1974 calendar. National Sporting Library and Museum archive collection (MC0020)

The Junior Handler Class is open to children associated with exhibiting packs.  There are two divisions, aged under 10, and aged 11-16.  Participants are judged on handling and presentation of the foxhound.  This promises to be quite cute as the children sport the same white coats and hats as adult handlers.  I’m looking forward to seeing all the hounds in person!

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Taken from The American Foxhound Club 1975 calendar. National Sporting Library and Museum archive collection (MC0020)

If you would like to learn more about foxhounds, hunts, or sporting dogs in general, the Library has many resources available.  There are extensive archival materials on various hunts, their hound pedigrees, journals of kennel activities, hound shows, and hunt diaries.  The Main Reading Room houses books on a wide range of breeds and strains.  You can also learn about training sporting dogs, kennel construction, or the medical care of these canine athletes.  Readers can catch up on current events in the hound community through Hounds magazine, also available in the Main Reading Room.  Come visit me in the Library and I’d be happy to connect you with any of these resources.


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Erica Libhart has served as the Mars 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