“The sky is the daily bread of the eyes” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
Art is often best viewed with one’s head in the clouds. Temperature, season, and weather are all defined in the skyline of landscape and sporting scenes. Artists may use dramatic cumulonimbus clouds to mirror the excitement of a race, or low-hanging swathes of mist to promise a dewy morning, giving way to the afternoon sun. In NSLM’s collections, a wide range of cloud types can be seen that meld scientific study with artistic appreciation.
In Malone’s Burrland Road, Orange County Hounds, we see an excellent example of stratus clouds, presumably at sunrise. They hang at middle height in the sky, usually measuring between 6,000 and 18,000 feet. While stratus clouds can bring a little fog or drizzle, for the most part they signify clear, dry weather. Here, the purple and blue clouds are set in contrast to the yellow, ochre, and red tones of the field, including hounds and rider. The color contrast and deep shadows of the figures suggest a cool, crisp morning. The viewer senses not only a low temperature, but also a breeze lifting the horse’s tail and hounds’ ears as they run forward. The direction of the breeze is perhaps echoed in the strokes of the stratus cloud, which in turn follows the direction of the field, urging the viewer’s gaze from left to right.
Here we see an example of tense energy, both in the skyline and in the foreground. As jockeys and their mounts line up before a flat race in The Start of the Derby, 1845, the sky is dominated by a billowing column of cumulonimbus cloud. These large, often dark, clouds can soar over 20,000 feet in height and signify incoming rain or storms. In this case it looks as though the front is headed right towards the race meet! The horses kick and stamp in excitement, just as plumes of cloud reach into the sky. It is clear that, both above and below, drama is in store.
When children learn to draw clouds, most often they start with perky, white, cumulus clouds. Cumulus clouds hang relatively low in the sky, often only 3,000-5,000 feet above the ground. While cumulus clouds can bring showers or develop into ominous cumulonimbus clouds, they are usually associated with calm and sunny days. In Tait’s Jealousy, a small herd of cows is seen relaxing in a sunny field edged by fences and wildflowers. Beyond that, a distant tree line softly blends the sky and earth together. Closer to the viewer, the rounded shapes of reclining cows are similar to the shapes of the clouds, evoking a peaceful and pastoral sense throughout the piece.
In art, as in life, the comings and goings of the clouds are worth note. Artists use skylines to tell the viewer about the meteorological conditions of their chosen setting, but they also use the science of clouds to emphasize the mood in every piece. Scientific principles can be found throughout NSLM’s collections. Learn more about them in NSLMology: Science in Sporting Art opening in Middleburg this April.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sidesaddle, 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 email@example.com
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.”
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.
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.
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.
In 2017, over 40 original watercolors by English artist Reuben Ward Binks (1880-1950) were donated to the National Sporting Library & Museum as part of a generous bequest from the late Mrs. Elizabeth Dunn Clark of Middleburg (March 23, 1936–April 7, 2017), breeder and owner of Springfield Farm Labrador Retriever kennels and founder of the Labrador Retriever Club of the Potomac. Sporting Dogs by Reuben Ward Binks, an exhibition of the works is on view at the National Sporting Library & Museum through September 30, 2018.
The collection features portraits of sporting dogs, primarily Labrador Retrievers, from the 1920s and 1930s. Most of the depictions are of canines from the kennels of the English sporting dog enthusiast Countess Lorna Howe (c.1890-1961). She was influential in the development of the Labrador Retriever breed in England. Born Lorna Katherine Curzon, she acquired her title with the marriage to her second husband, Richard George Penn Curzon, the 4th Earl Howe (1861-1929) in 1927.
Howe first began working with Labrador Retrievers in 1913 and quickly became a leading owner, breeder, and trainer. She helped organize the British Labrador Club in 1916 and was chairman from 1935 until her death in 1961. Dogs from her Banchory kennel won numerous championships. Howe eventually owned and competed a variety of dogs, including pointers, setters, spaniels, and Pugs, but the Labrador remained her favorite throughout her life.
Scandal of Glynn was the first Labrador owned by Lorna Howe. Before dying at the young age of five from canine typhus, he sired one litter of puppies which included only one dog (male), named Banchory Bolo. Banchory Bolo (1915-1927) became a champion Labrador Retriever owned by Lorna Howe. A highly successful competitor at field trials and the foundational sire to numerous later champions, Bolo became known for his ability, temperament, and conformation (body shape), which Labrador breeders sought in the early 20th century.
In 1918, when Howe purchased the young dog Bolo, he was considered dangerous and untrainable. In her 1957 book, The Popular Labrador Retriever, she chronicles her story of caring for the dog through illness, earning the animal’s trust through kindness, and training him to become a winning retriever. A copy of Howe’s book may be found in the NSLM’s Library Main Reading Room.
Howe commissioned Binks to paint at least thirteen compositions that featured or included Bolo in a variety of settings and poses. The artist had made a career of painting portraits of dogs and their individual characteristics. He worked primarily in watercolor and gouache, a more opaque type of watercolor paint, throughout his career. Howe was one of his earliest patrons, and he went on to paint portraits for dog enthusiasts throughout England and America, including the British Royal family.
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.
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.
The Horse in Ancient Greek Art installation at NSLM
Statuette of a Horse, ca. 750-600 BCE bronze 3 9/16 inches high, 7/8 inches wide, 3 1/4 inches long Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University Photo: Kevin Montague
4th grade students visit the exhibition
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.
Attributed to the Malibu Painter or to the C Painter Greek (Attic) Black-Figure Siana Cup, ca. 570-565 BCE A: Jockeys racing; B: Hoplites crouching Terracotta, Private Collection
Detail of The Hunt at Belvoir Vale showing the Earl of Wilton, in the lead on the chestnut horse.
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.
Daphne vom Baur (American, b. 1945) The Start 2004, oil on linen, 48 x 60 in., Gift of Mrs. Peter Manigault, 2015
Attributed to the Orestes Painter, Greek (Attic), Red-figure Column Krater, ca. 440 BCE, Side A: Jockeys racing around column, terracotta,16 1/4 inches high, 14 3/8 inches wide, Private Collection. Ancient jockeys, who rode nude, raced their horses on long oval tracks with a sharp turn at each end.
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.
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
The changing exhibitions displayed in the Museum give us the opportunity to see works of art in a new light. We can reunite works that have long been separated in different collections, or juxtapose objects which are not normally displayed with each other, or gather together multiple works by the same artist.
The more time you spend looking at works of art by the same artist, the more you begin to recognize that artist’s style, or “hand,” as art historians often like to say. This portrait by Benjamin Marshall, which is part of the NSLM permanent collection, shows a gentleman named Thomas Willan on his hunt horse. Willan owned a large farm in Marylebone Park, which is located in the present day area of Regent’s Park, London. His gothic-style manor house and gardens were known as Twyford Abbey. While the man and his horse are painted in glossy detail, the thinly-painted background is hazy and indistinct. There is a glimpse of fence line and gate on the viewer’s right and the hint of a waterway on the left. If the manor house is there, it is lost in the muted tones of the loosely painted landscape.
Other works by Marshall now on view in A Sporting Vision show a similar treatment of background and subject. In the portrait of Noble, a Hunter Well Known in Kent (where the horse is actually the “sitter”), the landscape is made up of loose brush strokes, with lots of sky and indistinct features. Hounds and huntstaff are shown faintly in the background.
We see it again in Colonel Henry Campbell Shooting on a Moor. The more you look at Marshall’s works, the more you can recognize similarities in the way he paints his figures as well.
Works on view by John Ferneley, Sr., and Francis Grant are connected as well. Ferneley briefly tutored the younger artist and the two collaborated on The Hunt in Belvoir Vale, which is part of the NSLM permanent collection. This mural-sized group portrait from the mid-1830s shows gentlemen foxhunting near the town of Melton Mowbray, highly popular foxhunting territory outside of London. Thirteen of the riders in the foreground are identified portraits, including Grant at the far left side. The painting was commissioned by the Earl of Wilton (1799-1882), who is pictured leading the group.
The Sporting Vision exhibition includes several works by Ferneley and one by Grant.
The Melton Hunt Going to Draw the Ram’s Head Cover was painted by Grant a few years after the NSLM painting. This group portrait features 36 identified figures riding with the Quorn Hunt, also in the Melton Mowbray area. The Earl of Wilton appears here as well, at center in the long grey coat, along with members of his family. The Countess of Wilton and her son Lord Grey de Wilton ride in the phaeton (a light-weight, four wheeled carriage) pulled by two palomino colored ponies. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1839. Grant went on to a successful painting career and was President of the Royal Academy from 1866 to 1878.
When you are here at the Museum next, I hope you enjoy taking time to compare and contrast the wonderful highlights of British sporting art that are currently on view.
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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“Drawing Covert,” refers to the practice in foxhunting of putting hounds in a covert (pronounced like “cover”), a thicket or wooded brush area, to find the fox.
This blog is about the exhibitions, tours, research, programs, and events, at NSLM on its unique collection of books, archives, paintings, sculpture and much more.