I’ve recently been cataloging some of our Cecil Aldin books and I’ve been enjoying his work so I’m sharing it, and some of what I’ve learned about him, here with you.  Cecil Aldin (1870-1935) was a successful and prolific artist.  He is probably best known for his dog portraits and sporting scenes, but his illustrations filled books, magazines, and newspapers, and frequently appeared on posters.

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Full Cry, from The Fallowfield Hunt.  From The Sporting Art of Cecil Aldin (1990) by Roy Heron.

Aldin believed that it was critical to work from life.  In much the same way that writers are told to write what they know, he drew and painted things that he knew well.  He was a life long hunter and followed fox hounds, harriers, beagles, and bassets during his sporting career.  In fact he attained the office of Master twice.  First as Master of the Peppard Farmers’ Harriers, and later as Master of Foxhounds for the South Berks Hunt.

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Aldin, third from the left, as Master of the Peppard Farmers’ Harriers.  From The Sporting Art of Cecil Aldin (1990) by Roy Heron.

His long and intimate knowledge of hunt riding gives his hunt scenes authenticity.  He frequently sketched in the saddle and was able to capture the idiosyncrasies of individual riders to such a degree that people who knew them were able to identify them in paintings.

After his death his daughter published one of his sketchbooks and it provides interesting insight to his artistic process.  I love how the setting is so concrete while the riders, horses, and hounds drift through the scene like ghosts.

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The Aterstone.  From Hunting Scenes (1936) by Cecil Aldin.  The gift of Harry T. Peters, Jr.

Compare this sketch of the South Berks near Shinfield with a final painting of a similar scene.

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South Berks near Shinfield.  From Hunting Scenes (1936) by Cecil Aldin.  The gift of Harry T. Peters, Jr.
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The South Berks.  From The Sporting Art of Cecil Aldin (1990) by Roy Heron.

Aldin was surrounded by dogs and hounds of all sorts his entire life.  Here are a couple pictures of his “models” in the studio.

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From Cecil Aldin: the story of a sporting artist (1981) by Roy Heron.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.
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From Cecil Aldin: the story of a sporting artist (1981) by Roy Heron.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

This photo and the following etching of Micky the wolfhound once again show Aldin working from life.

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Micky napping in the studio.  From Cecil Aldin: the story of a sporting artist (1981) by Roy Heron.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.
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Micky the wolfhound.  From Cecil Aldin: the story of a sporting artist (1981) by Roy Heron.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Aldin’s favorite model was the bull terrier, Cracker.

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Cracker on Sentry Duty.  From Cecil Aldin: the story of a sporting artist (1981) by Roy Heron.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Cracker outlived his master by over two years.  He was so popular with the public that his own eventual death received coverage on the radio and in the newspapers.  Several papers printed obituaries.

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Cracker’s obituaries.  From Cecil Aldin: the story of a sporting artist (1981) by Roy Heron.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Aldin’s life story is full of interesting episodes and people.  One story that really caught my eye has to do with the remount station that he ran during World War I.  Despite the doubts of the war office, he staffed his remount station entirely with women.

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A group of women remount workers at Purley Remount Depot.  From Cecil Aldin: the story of a sporting artist (1981) by Roy Heron.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

From his hunting experiences he knew many  women who were skilled horse handlers.  In the end there were over 100 women, from all social classes and of all ages, working in the remount station.  It was so successful that by the end of the war, women were employed in remount stations across England.

If you would like to read more about Cecil Aldin’s life, or to see some of his illustrations and paintings, stop by the Library and see me.  I’d love to share some more stories from his interesting life.


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Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services 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

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Cecil Aldin (1870-1935) was a British artist and illustrator, known for his portrayal of animals and country sports. Here at NSLM we have many books illustrated by him, and quite a few written by him, too. I find his art and his writing to be charming, so I couldn’t resist using another of his works for this post.

The stars of the book are Aldin's own duo, Micky and Cracker.
The stars of the book are Aldin’s own duo, Micky and Cracker.

We’ve blogged about some of Aldin’s work before, but nothing quite so “doggy” as this! Dogs of Character is a labor of love in which Aldin highlights the humorous habits, misadventures, and quirks of his lovable canine companions.

Aldin also relates humorous tales about other dogs he had encountered, including "Sturdee," the dog who chewed through doors with lightning speed!
Aldin also relates humorous tales about other dogs he had encountered, including “Sturdee,” the dog who chewed through doors with lightning speed!

It’s hard not to laugh along with Aldin. And honestly, who wouldn’t make a book about all their dog adventures if they had Aldin’s artistic ability?

Cracker likes to sleep atop Micky. If Aldin is to be believed, Micky won a dog show award for MOST POPULAR DOG IN SHOW, and Cracker won another for THE UGLIEST DOG IN SHOW.
Cracker likes to sleep atop Micky. If Aldin is to be believed, Micky won a dog show award for MOST POPULAR DOG IN SHOW, and Cracker won another for THE UGLIEST DOG IN SHOW.

The narrative of the book is very relaxed, and follows an easy,  conversational tone. One can easily imagine Aldin dispensing wisdom on the care of canines with illustrative misadventures, such as the time he got locked in a dog kennel by accident or the time his dog “Sturdee,” having been caught off the leash, chewed his way out of a jail cell door in the police station!

The stars, jealous of sharing the limelight with other dogs.
The stars, jealous of sharing the limelight with other dogs.

Do you have a special pup in your life? If you love dogs, don’t forget to check out the current Museum exhibition at NSLM, Side-by-Side with Gun & Dog.

This is one of over 100 books available to purchase through the NSLM Annual Auction. Time is running out! The Annual Auction, composed of duplicates from the Library collections, will end on November 8. This year’s Auction includes some lovely sporting art and is perfect for holiday shopping; contact John Connolly, the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian to bid.

Today I have something a bit more modern that was on hand already for another project: Ratcatcher to Scarlet, a book written and illustrated by Cecil Aldin (1870-1935) in 1933.

I wish I had more time to read books like this one! You couldn’t ask for a more clear, concise, and practical explanation of the dos and don’ts of foxhunting. For those who are curious, the title of the book refers to the tweed hunting attire known as a ratcatcher. An apt title, Ratcatcher to Scarlet covers all the bases, from following on foot or horseback, to best practices for cubbing and everything in between.

The book carries on an older tradition in foxhunting literature: the passing down of advice from older generations to younger enthusiasts. Aldin specifically points this out in his preface.

“These notes are for that young entry and not for the old hounds, but we may also include the beginner in the noble art of fox-catching, of whatever age, be he youngster, subaltern, millionaire or embryo Jorrocks. Penned for my son-in-law, I leave them in the form in which they were originally written.”

I greatly enjoy reading Aldin’s writings. An active foxhunter, Aldin used his extensive knowledge of the etiquette and techniques of foxhunting in his many illustrations.

"A. is in the wrong. Firstly, because he jumped a fence when hounds were not running. Secondly, he was wrong because he has smashed a repair rail unnecessarily, a rail which the farmer, to keep his cattle in the field, will have to repair the next day."
“A. is in the wrong. Firstly, because he jumped a fence when hounds were not running. Secondly, he was wrong because he has smashed a repair rail unnecessarily, a rail which the farmer, to keep his cattle in the field, will have to repair the next day.”
"In a few moments hounds hit off almost at our feet and the whole field comes charging down upon us. A few yards from us is a gateway in the timber fence; we open this and hold it back for those who prefer a gate to timber topping, and once more we have a fine view of a fox away and the pack and field in his wake."
“In a few moments hounds hit off almost at our feet and the whole field comes charging down upon us. A few yards from us is a gateway in the timber fence; we open this and hold it back for those who prefer a gate to timber topping, and once more we have a fine view of a fox away and the pack and field in his wake.”
"Notwithstanding your vigorous kicks, she eased up as she approached the ditch in front of her, springing off her hocks straight on to the top of the bank and broken fence, with her ears cocked forward ready for the Irish ditch on the landing side."
“Notwithstanding your vigorous kicks, she eased up as she approached the ditch in front of her, springing off her hocks straight on to the top of the bank and broken fence, with her ears cocked forward ready for the Irish ditch on the landing side.”
"At water, your heart should be over long before your horse. By the feel of your legs your horse should not have the slightest doubt about your intention of going over -- or in, i.e. that if he doesn't do his best you mean driving him in. A suggestion of hesitation on your part conveys itself immediately to your mount -- your heart therefore must be in or over long before you are, if you mean to have a cut at it at all."
“At water, your heart should be over long before your horse. By the feel of your legs your horse should not have the slightest doubt about your intention of going over — or in, i.e. that if he doesn’t do his best you mean driving him in. A suggestion of hesitation on your part conveys itself immediately to your mount — your heart therefore must be in or over long before you are, if you mean to have a cut at it at all.”
"Make him bend in and out of these trees at the walk and trot, looking well ahead of yourself all the time. Imagine you are driving a car through them. You would not be gazing down at your wheels; it is well ahead all the time you would be looking. Never hesitate as to which side of a tree you are going, or your horse will hesitate as well and probably smash your knee."
“Make him bend in and out of these trees at the walk and trot, looking well ahead of yourself all the time. Imagine you are driving a car through them. You would not be gazing down at your wheels; it is well ahead all the time you would be looking. Never hesitate as to which side of a tree you are going, or your horse will hesitate as well and probably smash your knee.”

The book is very practical. At heart, it underscores the reality of hunting that transcends the outward spectacle: the successful hunter possesses  knowledge of hunting and good riding; nothing can replace that.

For more information, visit the National Sporting Library & Museum website.