Spring has come, along with steeplechasing and flat racing throughout the Virginia Piedmont. The same springtime spirit can be felt across the racing community, and across the world. Few towns are held in as high sporting regard as Newmarket in Suffolk, England. First settled as a market town after the Norman invasion, Newmarket became a hub of horse racing culture in the reign of Charles II (1630 – 1685). Though James I built the first royal residence at Newmarket c. 1610 to pursue sport, it is only with the restoration of the Crown after 1660 that the town grew to become the international center of horse racing, a reputation that it still holds today.

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James Pollard (English, 1792-1867) Newmarket Races, 1909. Engraving from an earlier painting by James Pollard. Copyright Getty Images.

Among the earliest races established at Newmarket is the three-mile Newmarket Town Plate. Charles II founded the race in 1666 with the direction that it should be run in perpetuity. True to this charge, the race has been run for over 350 years. At first there were only two race meets, one in April, the other in October. By 1840 there were seven race meets: The Craven Meeting, the 1st and 2nd Spring Meetings, the July Meeting, the 1st and 2nd October Meetings, and finally the Houghton Meeting. Traditionally the first races of the year took place the week following Easter Sunday. Today the Rowley Mile and the July Course boast races and events every weekend from the Craven Meeting in mid-April to the final meet at the beginning of November.

George Stubbs, English, 1724 - 1806 (Artist); Hyena with a Groom
George Stubbs (English, 1724–1806), Hyaena at Newmarket with One of Jenison Shafto’s Stablelads, ca. 1765–7, oil on canvas, 40 1/8 x 50 1/8 inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Paul Mellon Collection (image source: https://www.vmfa.museum/piction/6027262-132161010/)

The long history and distinctive style of Newmarket made it a popular subject for the burgeoning market of sporting artwork in the 18th and 19th centuries, and beyond. Many famous equine portraits are set at the stables in Newmarket, meant to commemorate distinguished careers at the capitol of English racing. This subject allowed artists like George Stubbs (1724-1806) and Benjamin Marshall (1768-1835) to demonstrate their skillful mastery of equine anatomy. Other images of Newmarket show frenetic energy and passion before race meets. This time of year it is easy to imagine oneself pressed in a crowd of spectators as jockeys in brightly colored silks line up for the race.

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Sir Alfred Munnings, P.R.A. (British, 1878–1959), Linin’ ’em Up, Newmarket, ca. 1940–53, oil on panel, 19 ¾ x 23 ½ inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Paul Mellon Collection.  (image source: https://www.vmfa.museum/piction/7898216-110496899/)
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Henry Koehler (American, b. 1927), Jockeys Between Races, Newmarket, 2009, oil on canvas, 12 x 16 in. Gift of the artist, 2012.

Springtime races, whether at Newmarket or in the foothills of Loudoun County, marry the traditions of country life with the perennial newness and passion of changing seasons. The brisk air and thundering hooves can be felt across times as old and new are blended together in our cultural landscapes and in the paintings of sporting artists throughout time.

Not able to make it to Newmarket this spring? You’re in luck! Some of these works and other stunning examples of sporting masterpieces are on view at NSLM both in the permanent collection and in Spring’s feature exhibition, A Sporting Vision: the Paul Mellon Collection of British Sporting Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, opening April 13, 2018.

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pfeifferClaudia Pfeiffer has been the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art at the National Sporting Library & Museum since the position was underwritten by the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Foundation in 2012. Her primary focus is the research, design, interpretation, writing, and installation of exhibitions. E-mail Claudia at cpfeiffer@nationalsporting.org

Last year, the NSLM received a generous bequest from the late Elizabeth Dunn Clark of Middleburg, which included a beautiful example of work by the great British sporting painter, John Frederick Herring, Sr. (English, 1795-1865).

John Frederick Herring, Sr., The Start of the Derby, 1845, oil on canvas, 28 x 48 inches, NSLM, Bequest of Elizabeth D. Clark, 2017

Herring was well-known for his racing scenes and portraits of all the top English thoroughbreds of the day. The Start of the Derby, 1845, is a large composition showing the chaotic lineup at the start of the race in the foreground, and great billowing skyscape above.

F. Cooke, Portrait of John Frederick Herring, c. 1860, albumen carte-de-visite, 3 1/2 in. x 2 1/4 in. (88 mm x 57 mm) image size, National Portrait Gallery, London, Given by Algernon Graves, 1916. NPG Ax14887
© National Portrait Gallery, London

The Epsom Derby, often just called “The Derby,” was first run in 1780 and takes its name from one of the event’s founders, the 12th Earl of Derby. The 1 ½ mile flat turf race is for 3 year old colts or fillies. Held every June, it is one of the most prestigious and popular races in England. The region of Epsom (the source of the famous “Epsom Salts,” which were discovered there in the 17th century) has been known for horse racing for over 400 years.

The winner of the 1845 Derby was The Merry Monarch, ridden by Foster Bell, and owned by Mr. William Gratwicke, and is shown at the center foreground of the NSLM painting.

The horse was described  in George Tattersall’s 1850 Pictorial Gallery of English Race Horses, as a “bright bay horse, sixteen hands high, and altogether a remarkably fine looking horse.”  Unfortunately, despite this attractive description, he was just a one-hit-wonder. The 1845 race was The Merry Monarch’s only career win. He became known as a fluke, and was later described (in the June 1869 issue of The Sportsman magazine) as a “a very bad horse. . . who could not possibly have finished where he did had the others only stood up.” (Ouch!)

Portraits of The Merry Monarch were painted by Herring and other contemporary equine artists. John Frederick Herring, Sr., G.W. Gratwicke’s bay colt The Merry Monarch, in a loose box, oil on canvas, 28 x 36 in. (71.1 x 91.5 cm.) (Image: Christies)

The start of the race featured more excitement than the owners and jockeys would have liked. As they were lining up for the start, one of the best ranked horses of the year, Alarm, kicked another favorite, named The Libel. The two fought, Alarm threw his jockey, and then injured himself before the race could even start. Another top favorite, Pam, fell during the race. Herring’s depiction of the scene shows the crowded chaos.

A hand-drawn key to the painting, by the artist’s son, John “Fred” Frederick Herring, Jr., labels the horse and jockey portraits shown in the foreground. 18 of the 31 entries are identified – though we hardly need the key to tell us which one is the winner, and which are the two who fought at the start!

John Frederick Herring, Jr. (English, 1815-1907), The Start of the Derby (key), c. 1845, pencil on paper, 8 1/2 x 15 1/4 inches, NSLM, Bequest of Elizabeth D. Clark, 2017

1845 wasn’t the first time – and certainly wouldn’t be the last – that The Derby was marked by drama. The previous year, 1844, the winning horse named Running Rein, actually turned out to be a 4-year-old imposter named Maccabeus and was disqualified. One of the most famous and tragic runnings of the Derby was in 1913, when a suffragette named Emily Davison, who was protesting the lack of women’s voting rights, ran onto the track, was struck by a horse, and later died of her injuries.

Even though The Merry Monarch turned out to be a disappointment in future races, the summer race day shown in our new painting was his time to shine.

“‘The Winnah’ Alligator – Horse of Iron” was the inscription that sporting artist and illustrator Paul Brown chose to describe Alligator, the bay gelding that he noted won not one, not two, not three, but an unbelievable FOUR steeplechases after various jockeys fell and remounted.  The 1928 West Hills Plate, 1929 Maryland Cup, 1930 International Cup at Grasslands, and the Millbrook Hunt Steeplechase are annotated in the lower margin of one of Brown’s illustrations for his book, Ups and Downs (1936). The artist sketched some of Alligator’s gravity-defying crashes and wins for the book as well as his earlier publication, Spills and Thrills (1933), and his captions present entertaining and informative details.

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Paul Desmond Brown (American, 1893-1958) The “Winnah,” 1936, pencil on paper, inscribed:  The “Winnah” Alligator – Horse of Iron – | Fell   Millbrook  – and won | ”        Maryland – ”       ” |” Grasslands – ”       ” | ” or Lost Rider at West Hills and won  | Paul Brown ’36. Donated by Boots Wright in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Richard E. Riegel, 2013.

The first race was for the West Hills Plate, the seventh annual meet held on Long Island on November 10, 1928. Brown’s drawing shows jockey Frederic C. Thomas going over the horse’s head at the first fence, swinging underneath its neck, and desperately trying to hold on before losing his grip. “An exhibition of indomitable courage was witnessed here this afternoon,” noted the next day’s article in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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Paul Desmond Brown (American, 1893-1958) Alligator hit 1st, 1933, pencil and ink on paper, inscribed: Alligator hit 1st – Freddie Thomas started nose dive – caught mounts neck – swung under it – horse stopped – Freddie remounted – and won – West Hills Plate, West Hills 1928. Donated by Boots Wright in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Richard E. Riegel, 2013.

Alligator won the thirty-first running of the Meadow Brook Cup with Lyman Wright up in 1929 without a fall. Brown’s exquisite illustration of the race held on sportsman F. Ambrose Clark’s estate captures a pivotal moment described in an article in the September 29, 1929 The Baltimore Sun: “…Hackenthorpe stayed with his rivals three-quarters of the way, but when the famous stone wall appeared again Hackenthorpe did not have enough left to get over and the race was left to Alligator and Reel Foot.”

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Paul Desmond Brown (American, 1893-1958) The Hole in the Wall, 1933, pencil and ink on paper,  inscribed: The Hole in the Wall – Alligator, Reel Foot, Hackenthorpe – Lyman Wright, Bill Streett, Charlie Cushman up – how they drove for the gap in the 12th – Alligator won the race – Reel Foot was 2nd – Hackenthorpe fell Meadow Brook Cup 1929 Donated by Boots Wright in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Richard E. Riegel,  2013.

Brown did not illustrate Alligator’s famed April 1929 Maryland Hunt Cup win in his books, but the wife of the horse’s trainer Harry Plumb found it worthy of a poetic tribute. Plumb was also the father of one of Alligator’s jockeys, Charles T. Plumb:*

From out the ruck / Of many a name, / “Alligator” / He raced to fame.

The Maryland Hunt! / The ‘CUP’ the prize: / “They’re off” the cry, / And then, surprise….

At number-two fence, / That timbered rail, / Alligator fell: / “Too bad” they wail.

But ‘blood’ will not tell / In man or beast. / And fame is made /At racing feast….

For quick as a flash / From starting gun, / Alligator’s up…./ And starts to run.

The ‘field’ out there / In front so far: / A hopeless chase / For this great star.

But fence by fence, / By hand and ride, / Alligator / In glorious stride

Picks up the loss / And leads them all / He wins the race: / “Hurrah” they call.

She continued with a description of a repeat performance by Alligator:

Then, once more, this / “Thorobred Crack” / Surprised the fans / At Grasslands track:

Fencing so clean / With jump and stride. / His praises sung / On every side.

But here, again, / This grand horse fell, / Next fence at last, / Pell-mell! Pell-mell!

Then up again / ‘Tis writ as history, / He galloped on / To cheers and victory.

– “Salute to a Great Horseman” by Elaine T. Plumb, The Chronicle, Dec. 31, 1948

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Paul Desmond Brown (American, 1893-1958) Dramatic, 1933, pencil and ink on paper, inscribed: Dramatic – I’ll say so – next last fence – Alligator fell – Waverly Star dog tired and went down in the mud too tired to get up – Charlie Plum wiped mud and blood from face – remounted – went on – won. Grasslands 1930. Donated by Boots Wright in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Richard E. Riegel, 2013.

Approximately 8,000 spectators witnessed the running of the grueling first International Cup held at the Grasslands Downs Course, TN, in 1930. Every single one of the seventeen entries either fell or pulled up. Brown’s sketch shows Alligator falling on his front knees going over the 25th jump and Waverly Star slipping.  “Charlie Plum [sic] wiped mud and blood from face – remounted – went on – won,” wrote Brown in the caption describing the nail-biting ending of the race.

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Franklin Brooke Voss, (American, 1880-1953) Alligator, 1929, oil on canvas, 28 x 36 inches, Gift of the children of Peter Winants, Sr., 2009

Viewing American sporting artist Franklin Brooke Voss’s serene 1929 portrait of Alligator in light of Paul Brown’s illustrations with the horse’s striking career in mind –  is transformative. This is Alligator, “Horse of Iron,” and one of the most hardcore steeplechase horses that ever lived.

* Errata: The poem was previously incorrectly attributed to the wife of jockey and Meadowbrook Huntsman Charles T. Plumb.


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

Renaissance figure Leonardo da Vinci is famous for many things, from designing the first helicopter to painting the Mona Lisa. One of his most notable achievements was to capture human anatomy on paper, board, and canvas. From the Renaissance onward, science and art went hand in hand, especially in rendering the human form. Horses and other animals, on the other hand, were not always studied in so much detail.

George Stubbs (English, 1724 – 1806) was one of the first artists to use extensive equine anatomical study in his body of work. Stubbs was mostly self-taught, and he studied human dissection at York Hospital to inform his art. His fascination with anatomy then led Stubbs to published Anatomy of a Horse in 1766.

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George Stubbs (British, 1724–1806). Three plates from The Anatomy of the Horse, 1766. Plates: etching; 18 1/4 x 23 in. (46.4 x 58.4 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Lincoln Kirstein, 1953 (53.599.1bis)

The ability to convincingly capture individual horse conformation and motion on canvas eluded most artists of this time. Stubbs, in contract, was not only able to render a horse with paint, but to place the horse within the composition naturally and effectively.

 

George Stubbs, English, 1724 - 1806 (Artist); Hyena with a Groom
George Stubbs (English, 1724–1806), Hyaena at Newmarket with One of Jenison Shafto’s Stablelads, ca. 1765–7, oil on canvas, 40 1/8 x 50 1/8 inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Paul Mellon Collection (image source: https://www.vmfa.museum/piction/6027262-132161010/)

Stubbs was made President of the Society of Artists in 1772 and elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1780; he exhibited for both groups.  Stubbs’ recognition, however, seemed to stall even though his skill was recognized far and wide. Animal subjects were relegated to a lower order than historic, figurative, and landscape art in a hierarchy long established by fine art academies and art critics. Stubbs continued to study and paint, but passed away with little fanfare in 1806.

George Stubbs - Whistlejacket, 1762 at the National Gallery London England
George Stubbs (1724–1806)
c. 1762,
Oil-on-canvas
292 cm × 246.4 cm (115 in × 97 in)
National Gallery, London

George Stubbs’ contributions to art do not rest solely in the “animal painter” genre. Though known for his sporting scenes, Stubbs’ dedication to realism and anatomy place him in the category of artists who, like Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo, seek the truth in art through science.

Want to know more about George Stubbs and British sporting art? Visit the National Sporting Library & Museum this Spring to see A Sporting Vision: The Paul Mellon Collection of British Sporting Art from the from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts,  a traveling exhibition organized by VMFA, on view April 13 – July 22, 2018.


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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 experience 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

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