There is a phenomenon that occurs in almost every museum: from a collection of thousands, a few works of art or historical objects emerge as a set of ‘fan favorites’. At NSLM, one such popular piece is Foxhounds and a Terrier in a Stable Interior, by John Emms. Each subject is painted with a keen eye for detail, the scene is restful, informal, and dignified. In fact, Emms’ low vantage point prompts the viewer to see these hounds (and terrier) as equals. It quickly becomes clear which animals have the larger personalities.

Foxhounds and a Terrier in a Stable Interior, 1878, John Emms (English, 1841-1912), oil on canvas, 39 x 52 inches, Gift of Mrs. Felicia Warburg Rogan, 2008

Viewers love this painting for a multitude of reasons, including the colors, textures, and the hounds’ expressions. My favorite thing about this piece is that Emms uses triangular composition here in much the same ways that Renaissance artists did centuries before.

The triangle lends a sense of stability to traditional compositions. The wide base helps to ground the eye while the narrow peak draws the viewer’s gaze upwards, usually to a face. Even though the subject itself may not be symmetrical, a triangular composition suggests balance. Emms uses an intricate arrangement of paws, noses, tails, and ears to construct triangles in Foxhounds and Terrier in a Stable Interior, while Leonardo Da Vinci only used one figure in Mona Lisa. My favorite little scene in Emms’ piece is a grouping of three hounds in the back of the kennel. The downward gaze of the hound at the top, with the other two gazing across at each other, is strikingly similar to many Madonna and Child paintings of the Renaissance era.

In particular, one of my favorite comparisons is to Raphael’s The Madonna and Child. In this piece, a young Mary extends both of her arms outwards: her left arm reaches down to bring St. John the Baptist closer to herself, while her right hand is raised to wrap the infant Christ in her garment. The motion is at once maternal and deferential. Meanwhile, in Emms’ painting, we see a similarly intimate moment caught between three hounds. Though probably not a maternal scene, the two hounds lying in the hay regard the sitting hound somewhat respectfully. The sitting hound is pale in color, and his or her down-turned eyes suggest a kind of long-suffering piety recognized in older dogs who live around rambunctious puppies or children. In both paintings, the grouping of subjects creates a very clear triangle between the seated figures and two smaller or reposed figures in their charge.

Once you start recognizing triangles in painting compositions, it is very difficult to stop! I encourage you all to take a stroll through our galleries to see how many more examples you can find of sporting artwork that shares compositional geometry with Italian Renaissance masters.


SONY DSC

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

Advertisements

Many of the works of art in the NSLM collection show gallant wins, bucolic scenes, or noble portraits. And some show the slightly less noble side of equestrian sport. Many sporting artists – who were oftentimes equestrians themselves – showed their sense of humor about the inevitable:  when a rider parts company with her or his horse. Below are just a few examples from the permanent collection which show riders and their mounts parting ways.

John Ferneley, Sr, (British, 1781-1860), The Hunt in Belvoir Vale, c.1835 oil on canvas, 48 x 133 in. Gift of Kathryn James Clark in memory of Stephen C. Clark, Jr., 2013
John Ferneley, Sr, (British, 1781-1860), The Hunt in Belvoir Vale, c.1835, oil on canvas, 48 x 133 inches, Gift of Kathryn James Clark in memory of Stephen C. Clark, Jr., 2013

This mural-sized painting by John Ferneley, Sr., shows a hunting scene in England’s Melton Mowbray, in the 1830s. The group of huntsmen shown in the foreground have all been identified. However, if you look closely, you can see a fellow in the background (who remains nameless) begrudgingly following behind his horse on foot.

Ferneley detail_web

One of the exhibitions currently on view in the Museum, Picturing English Pastimes: British Sporting Prints at the NSLM, includes several works by artist Henry Thomas Alken. His panorama of the 1818 Epsom Derby features a parade of spectators heading to the races – some of whom can barely control their mounts.

Henry Thomas Alken (English, 1785-1851) Epsom Races – The Derby Day, 1818 hand-colored aquatint, each 2 ½ x 20 inches Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Norman R. Bobins, 2012
Henry Thomas Alken (English, 1785-1851), (detail) Epsom Races – The Derby Day, 1818, hand-colored aquatint, each 2 ½ x 20 inches, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Norman R. Bobins, 2012

The illustrations of American artist Paul Brown (1893-1958) are much loved by riders and non-riders alike. With his published collections of drawings titled Spills and Thrills, Good Luck and Bad, and Ups and Downs, he became famous for capturing crashes and near misses at equestrian events in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.

Paul Brown, Happy Landing, 1933, pencil and ink on paper, 8 1/2 x 11 1/4 inches, Gift of Boots Wright in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Richard E. Riegel, 2013
Paul Brown, Happy Landing, 1933, pencil and ink on paper, 8 1/2 x 11 1/4 inches, Gift of Boots Wright in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Richard E. Riegel, 2013 [(c) Paul Brown]
Inscription: Happy Landing – Louis D’Or pecked – slid – scrambled and the boy went out on his mounts neck – Horse recovered with a great forward and upward thrust of his legs and a toss of his head. Up went jockey Harroway – up and off.  Llangollen Farms 1932.

Paul Brown, Mistakes and Great Recoveries, 1940, pencil on paper, 9 1/4 x 12 inches, Gift of Boots Wright in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Richard E. Riegel, 2013
Paul Brown, Mistakes and Great Recoveries, 1940, pencil on paper, 9 1/4 x 12 inches, Gift of Boots Wright in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Richard E. Riegel, 2013 [(c) Paul Brown]
Inscription: Mistakes and great recoveries by mounts and men – from Maryland, Virginia and Long Island

Paul Brown, Mike Phipps vs. Stewart Iglehart, 1933, pencil and ink on paper, 8 1/2 x 11 1/4 inches, Gift of Boots Wright in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Richard E. Riegel, 2013
Paul Brown, Mike Phipps vs. Stewart Iglehart, 1933, pencil and ink on paper, 8 1/2 x 11 1/4 inches, Gift of Boots Wright in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Richard E. Riegel, 2013 [(c) Paul Brown]
Inscription: “Mike” Phipps vs. Stewart Iglehart, A bump form behind by “Mike” – “Stewie” in the air – rolling boy – back in saddle again and the game went on. Meadow Brook 1931.

Cecil Aldin (English, 1870-1935), The Grand National Series: No. 3, Valentine's Brook, c. 1823, photogravure, Gift of Dr. Laura Jane Schrock
Cecil Aldin (English, 1870-1935), (detail) The Grand National Series: No. 3, Valentine’s Brook, c. 1823, photogravure, Gift of Dr. Laura Jane Schrock

 

Whether you are a 19th century fox hunter, or a 21st century aspiring Olympian, we all end up on the ground occasionally. The artists in our collection like to help remind us of that. Here’s to everyone keeping their feet safely planted in the irons!

The two Coming Home Series exhibitions focusing on the artist Edward Troye (American, 1808-1874), Faithfulness to Nature: Paintings by Edward Troye in the Museum and Edward Troye and His Biographers: The Archives of Harry Worcester Smith and Alexander Mackay-Smith in the Library, close on March 29, 2015. During the nineteenth century when many British animal and sporting artists enjoyed popularity in the United Kingdom, there was no one other than Troye working in the United States to rise to his caliber as an American Thoroughbred portraitist in his lifetime. Despite this, his body of work was all but forgotten by the turn of the twentieth century. The exhibitions and catalog essays cover the weighty topic of Troye’s momentous, forty-year career, the rediscovery of his paintings, and his role as a naturalist painter. If you are even mildly curious, you should visit both of these in-depth exhibits.

Today we will be taking a closer look at the Museum exhibition,  Faithfulness to Nature: Paintings by Edward Troye. Forty-two works have been gathered from sixteen private and public collections that will never be organized in the same way again. Divided into three sections, the first gallery reminds the visitor of the huge impact Troye had on the racing world within the first few years of his arrival in the United States. Eleven of the fourteen works in this room were created between 1832 and 1834. In these years, Troye painted such legendary racehorses and brood mares as American Eclipse, Henry, John Singleton, and Mary Randolph.

Trifle, 1832
Trifle, 1832, oil on canvas, 21 x 24 inches, Collection of Kirk and Palmer Ragsdale

Still in his possession when he died in 1874, Trifle, 1832, is among the first paintings that Troye completed in the United States. An early experiment with the jockey up, he did not often paint figures astride after this. The painting is also one of three compositions in the exhibition that documents the practice of keeping slaves as jockeys and trainers by Southern plantation owners before the Civil War.

The second-floor gallery offers a sweeping view of some of Troye’s most significant works created between 1839 and 1872. The 84-inch tall, A Bazaar in Damascus, 1856, is a highlight of the room. It is easy to get lost in the rich colors, vibrant details, and individual animal and figurative portraits  in the highly-detailed composition.

Detail of Bazaar in Damascus, 1856
A Bazaar in Damascus, 1856 (detail), oil on canvas, 84 x 64 inches, Collection of Bethany College, Bethany, WV

The painting from Troye’s epic excursion to the Middle East has not been on view at eye-level under museum lighting in over a decade. When it returns to its home along with Syrian Ploughman, 1856, another mural-sized work on loan from Bethany College, they will both be rehung twenty feet in the air in the gigantic Academic Parlour of the campus’s Old Main building. (Read Bethany College’s post about the exhibition opening and loans at http://www.bethanywv.edu/about-bethany/news/2014-15-news-archive/bethany-paintings-edward-troye-showcased-middleburg-va-museu/.)

Faithfulness to Nature: Paintings by Edward Troye also features Waverly, 1872, the last known painting completed by Troye two years before he died. The landscape in it is much more fully defined than his  previous works. To one side of Waverly, standing in deep shadow, is a group of horses; these are likely brood mares with two of the stallion’s progeny frolicking. To the right are a stable and tree balancing the composition.

Waverly 1872
Waverly, 1872, oil on canvas, 25 x 30 inches, Collection of Lawrence and Rene Kurzius

Biographer Alexander Mackay-Smith wrote of the painting in The Race Horses of America 1832 to 1872: Portraits and Other Paintings by Edward Troye, published in 1981, “It was characteristic of the artist that only after the completion of a masterpiece was he content to put down his palette and brushes and to end his career as an artist.”

The hallway gallery punctuates the exhibition with examples of Troye’s sketches. A large painting of the winning Thoroughbred Boston (one of nine paintings generously loaned by The Jockey Club) is paired with the life study of the horse upon which it is based. There are only a handful of sketches known to still be in existence by Troye. The NSLM holds five in its permanent collection, of which Boston, 1839, is one, and the sensitive, informal charcoal study illustrated below of the aging blind Lexington, c. 1870, is another.

Lexington, c. 1870
Lexington, c. 1870, charcoal on paper, 26 x 18 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Ms. Elizabeth J. D. Jeffords, 2008

No picture can capture the true essence of these works. Several paintings and prints from the NSLM’s permanent collection are also on view in the Library exhibition, Edward Troye and His Biographers: The Archives of Harry Worcester Smith and Alexander Mackay-Smith. We will take a closer look at this installation in the Coming Home Series: Part 2 blog entry next week.

When these exhibitions close on March 29th, the delicate works on paper and archives will rest out of the light for a time to preserve them, and most of the paintings will leave the NSLM. Come out and visit us before the exhibits end. It will be worth your while to see them in person.

– Claudia Pfeiffer, George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art