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.


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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

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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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Great Sporting Posters of the Golden Age, Sid Latham (1978)

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s manufacturers of guns, munitions, and to a lesser extent fishing tackle, promoted their products with large colorful posters and calendars, featuring artwork commissioned from some of the finest illustrators of the era. I was recently introduced to this art form through Sid Latham’s book, Great Sporting Posters of the Golden Age (1978). This oversize volume, found in the Library’s Main Reading Room, showcases two dozen advertising posters.

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Brant by Lynn Bogue Hunt (1909), for Du Pont Powder Company.

Right away one notices the lack of product information on these posters. There are company names, and tag lines, but beyond that there are only the images. Rather than directly peddling their products, these companies seek to evoke the memories and feelings of a viewer’s own experience in the field, and to associate their products with those experiences.

Here we see the thrill of the chase.  The image on the left was created for The Horton Manufacturing Company by Philip R. Goodwin (1917).  The lake scene on the right is by an unknown artist and was created for The Laflin & Rand Powder Company (1904 or 1905).  Quite a few of the posters in Latham’s book are by uncredited artists.  He tells us that some artists would not sign their commercial work in order to maintain their reputations as fine artists.  Apparently advertising work was considered undignified by some.

The next two posters highlight the beauty of the quarry.  The pair of grouse on the left are by Edward Knoebel (1909) for The Winchester Repeating Arms Company.  On the right, Gustave Muss-Arnolt places the viewer in the sky with a squadron of mallard ducks.  This poster was created for The Peters Cartridge Company.

Some posters, like this one by Carl Rungius for the Savage Arms Company (1904), showcase the moment of victory.

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This scene showing an unexpected occurrence sure to become an oft-told tale was done by an unknown artist for The Laflin & Rand Powder Company (1906).

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Both of the posters below are by unnamed artists.  They highlight a hunter’s working relationship and companionship with his dogs.  The setters on the left were painted for The Winchester Repeating Arms Company.  The hunter resting with his canine companions was created for Lefever Arms Company.

And of course, you can’t go wrong with puppies!  These adorable chaps were painted for The Union Metallic Cartridge Company by an unknown artist (1904).

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One of the reasons I think these illustrations are so evocative is that many of the artists were sporting men themselves. They spent time in the field and as a result their images have an authentic feel. In The Art of American Arms Makers (2004), we can see Philip R. Goodwin’s, Off for the Day’s Hunt, first as a preliminary water color sketch, next as the completed oil painting, and finally as a calendar for Winchester Guns and Cartridges.  Goodwin hunted in Montana in 1907 and 1910.  It’s likely that this scene is drawn from his experiences on those trips.

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Off for the Day’s Hunt by Philip R. Goodwin (1915).  In The Art of American Arms Makers, Richard C. Rattenbury (2004).  The gift of David S. Nelson.

Once the readership of sporting magazines ballooned manufacturers began to reach out to their potential customers through that venue.  There was no longer a need for the posters.  Today they are quite collectible, and of course they remain as evocative as ever.  In fact an added layer of nostalgia increases their beauty.

Beyond creating commercial posters, these artists illustrated books, painted, and sculpted.  The Library’s collections contain many examples of their work, as well as books about their careers.  The museum also holds examples of fine art created by some of the same artists.

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Matchless, by Gustave Muss-Arnolt (1885).  The gift of Harry T. Peters, Jr.

Drop in and read about Lynn Bogue Hunt’s, or Carl Rungius’ life in The Main Reading Room, or view a set of hound portraits painted by Gustave Muss-Arnolt in the Museum’s permanent collection.


SONY DSCErica 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

When looking to identify a book as one’s own, the discerning bibliophile will opt for a book plate. Book plates range from lighthearted and fanciful to historic and dignified.

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Book plate including family arms of the Fifth Earl of Lonsdale.

Here at NSLM, we have thousands of books with the plates of collectors past. Many enshrine the book owner’s love of turf and field sports.

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Book Plate of Harry Worcester Smith.

Book plates have been considered collectible items since the 1950s, with whole organizations devoted to the collecting of plates. We recently came across a collection of draft book plate designs by Robert Ball. Ball’s completed book plates are gorgeous, contemplative pieces, and many of the rough drafts in the book are sketched out on wax paper.

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Finalized book plate in memory of Frederick Sprague Barbour for The Norfolk Library.

 

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A copper plate of a draft book plate for Jerome Marks Rich. Mr. Rich rejected this design and the plate was sold in 1970.
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Positive draft book plate for Jerome Marks Rich.
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Robert Ball drafted a book plate for Henry Ford. This pencil sketch is on wax-lined tissue paper.
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A draft book plate for the NSLM? We were surprised to stumble across this piece. To our knowledge, the plate was never completed and NSLM has no books with the plate.

More to come as we see if we can research the history of the NSLM book plate by Robert Ball. It would be wonderful if we could identify a completed version!

Thank you to all our readers for a great 2016! Staff will be out of office next week for holidays, and we’ll update the blog again on our new Tuesday schedule beginning January 3.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. 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 John by e-mail