Growing up, one of my favorite books was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Like Alice, I would have gladly followed the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole.  I get the same sense of heady adventure from research. Not much is more satisfying than to dive into the proverbial rabbit hole, follow what might seem to be disjointed paths, only to resurface with new connections.

Researching the upcoming loan exhibition, The Chronicle of the Horse in Art, on view from August 26, 2016 through March 26, 2017, has been one of these grand adventures. Several major loans including works by the sporting art masters George Stubbs, Ben Marshall, and John Ferneley, Sr. are coming from Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Yale Center for British Art, Genesee Country Village & Museum, and private lenders across the country.

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Ben Marshall (English, 1768-1835), John Gully (detail), c. 1815, oil on canvas, 13 ¾ x 12 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, by 1975, reproduced on the 5/30/1975 Chronicle of the Horse cover

On the surface the exhibition concept seems straightforward: find the current location of representative artwork reproduced on the covers of  the famed equestrian magazine, The Chronicle of the Horse (CoTH), and request permission for loans. Simple, right? Not when you start to take into consideration that the magazine started featuring artwork on the cover in August 1945 and continued weekly until March 2012. There were approximately 3,400 covers to unearth, and what we found was that many of the rabbit holes led straight back to NSLM’s permanent collection. As a result, several paintings from the NSLM’s permanent collection will be included as well.

Ohrstrom Sr - Haupt
Eric Guide Haupt (American, 1891 – 1984), Portrait of George L. Ohrstrom, Sr. (1894 – 1955), oil on canvas, 36 x 30 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of the Ohrstrom Family

Portrait of George L. Ohrstrom, Sr. by Eric Haupt appeared on the 11/18/1955 cover along with an obituary written by Editor Alexander Mackay-Smith on page 2.  Ohrstrom, Sr. had taken ownership of the magazine in 1952 until his passing in November 1955. Mackay-Smith and Ohrstrom, Sr. were also founders of the National Sporting Library in 1954.

Edward Troye (American, 1808 - 1874) American Eclipse, 1834, 1843 Oil on canvas, 25 ¼ x 30 ¼ inches Gift of Mr. George L. Ohrstrom, Jr., c. 1974
Edward Troye (American, 1808 – 1874), American Eclipse, 1834, 1843, oil on canvas, 25 ¼ x 30 ¼ inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Mr. George L. Ohrstrom, Jr., c. 1974

George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. took over his father’s role in both organizations and led each for five decades. Ohrstrom, Jr. was an inveterate sporting art collector. On 6/2/1976, American Eclipse, 1834, painted in 1843 by Edward Troye, appeared on the CoTH cover with the credit “Courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. George L. Ohrstrom and the National Sporting Library.” The reproduction was accompanied by a detailed article by Mackay-Smith about the legendary thoroughbred painted by Troye and other art donations to NSL.

Given the NSLM’s and CoTH’s intertwined histories, these works were not a surprise. Others, however, were. We were not able to allocate the time for what would have conservatively been a two-month, full-time job looking through the bound volumes of the CoTH magazines in the Library lower level.  We instead relied on a finding aid and a list shared by the CoTH to do strategic searches. We found that the descriptive titles for the works on the covers magazine often didn’t match the currently known titles. The Library’s digitization of its microfilm holdings of many of the CoTH issues recently made searching infinitely easier. 

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Alfred J. Munnings (1878-1959), Shrimp with Ponies in the Ringland Hills Near Norwich, c. 1911, oil on canvas, 20 x 24 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Mrs. Felicia Warburg Rogan, 2008 © Castle House Trust (Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum)

It turns out that one of the most important paintings in NSLM’s collection was reproduced on the 4/19/1957 cover under the title “Welsh Ponies.” Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum provided the image well before Mrs. Felicia Warburg Rogan purchased Sir Alfred Munnings’ Shrimp with Ponies in the Ringland Hills Near Norwich, c. 1911, and later donated it to NSLM.

Bowman Mongo
Jean Eleanor Bowman (American, 1917 – 1994), Mongo on the Turf at Laurel Racetrack, Maryland with Charles Burr Up, 1964, oil on canvas, 29 x 36 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Jacqueline B. Mars, 2012 © John H. Pentecost

Even a fairly recent donation to NSLM appeared on the 11/13/1964 cover, a portrait of the race horse Mongo with jockey up by Jean Bowman, image courtesy of Mrs. Marion DuPont Scott. An article appeared in the issue about the turf and dirt track champion home-bred at duPont Scott’s Montpelier.

Much like Alice in Wonderland, I find myself waking up in the exact place I started,  refreshed and excited to share the wonderful stories found in the The Chronicle of the Horse, the resulting exhibition, and the research reconnecting the past to the present.

On to the next rabbit hole…

RELATED EVENTS:

NSLM Members are cordially invited to attend a Members’ preview, reception, and gallery talk by George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art Claudia Pfeiffer to celebrate the opening of The Chronicle of the Horse in Art exhibition on Thursday, August 25th from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. To become a member and take part in his event, please contact Frances Monroe at 540.687.6542 ext. 26 or fmonroe@nationalsporting.org.

A public reception will be held on Saturday, August 27th. Join NSLM’s George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art Claudia Pfeiffer, for a coffee reception from 10:00 to 10:30 and then follow her on a custom tour of the exhibition.


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.

email: cpfeiffer@nationalsporting.org

Last week we took a closer look at some of the amazing art that is on loan to the Museum exhibition, Faithfulness to Nature: Paintings by Edward Troye. This week we will explore the Library archive exhibition currently in the Forrest E. Mars, Sr. Exhibit Hall, Edward Troye and His Biographers: The Archives of Harry Worcester Smith and Alexander Mackay-Smith. On view through March 29, 2015, most of the materials in this exhibit are from the NSLM’s permanent collections.

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Edward Troye and His Biographers: The Archives of Harry Worcester Smith and Alexander Mackay-Smith, Forrest E. Mars, Sr. Exhibit Hall

Author and John H. Daniels Fellow Martha Wolfe spent several months elbow-deep in boxes, pulling file after file from the Harry Worcester Smith and Alexander Mackay-Smith archives to research and write an essay for the extensive Coming Home Series: Edward Troye (1808-1874) catalog. Wolfe wrote, “Here in the National Sporting Library & Museum archives, in boxes stacked nearly to the ceiling, is the story of three men whose lives spanned two centuries, whose interests overlapped and whose souls were kindred: artist Edward Troye (1808-1874); the indomitable sportsman Harry Worcester Smith (1864-1945); and scholar, chronicler and author Alexander Mackay-Smith (1903-1998).” Some of the treasures that Martha unearthed include: a photographic print of Edward Troye taken by W.R. Phipps, Lexington Kentucky, which the artist presented to his long-time friend and patron Alexander Keene Richards in 1872;…

Troye photo
Edward Troye, photographic print taken by W.R. Phipps, Lexington Kentucky, Harry Worcester Smith Archive, MC0041, Box 5, Harry W. Smith: Troye, Advertizements for horses Misc.

…the artist’s calling card. Two versions are known – this and another which reads “Edward Troye, Animal Painter.”;

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Edward Troye, Artist. calling card, Harry Worcester Smith Archive, MC0041, Box 5, Harry W. Smith: Troye, Advertizements for horses Misc.

…a negative print copy of pages from Troye’s obituary written in the flowing hand of A. Keene Richards on July 24, 1874. It begins, “Edward Troye the imminent Animal Painter died this morning of Pneumonia hastened by Heart disease…”;

Troye obit
negative print copy of pages from Edward Troye obituary by A. Keene Richards, July 24, 1874, Harry Worcester Smith Archive, MC0041, Box 5, Harry W. Smith: Troye, Advertizements for horses Misc.

…and an envelope written on by Harry Worcester Smith, the sporting scholar who spent over three decades tracking down and championing Edward Troye’s artwork. Worcester Smith had intended to write a book on the artist, but he never published one. “Who will finish or continue my accumulation of Thought Feeling and Art?” Worcester-Smith asked.

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Harry Worcester Smith envelope, Harry Worcester Smith Archive

During her research, Wolfe unearthed a letter that pointed to Alexander Mackay-Smith as the answer to this profound question. Carvel Collins, who in 1949 produced a portfolio of reproductions of Troye’s 19th century American racehorse engravings, wrote this endorsement to Alexander Mackay-Smith, ““Mr. Harry Worcester Smith on the day before he died gave me his compliments on your interest and skill in historical research and in sport.”

collins letter
Letter to Alexander Mackay-Smith from Dr. Carvel Collins, Assistant Dean, Harvard College, April 11, 1945, F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room [letter inserted in: The American Sporting Gallery: Portraits of American Horses from Spirit of the Times, 1839-1844, set of fourteen engravings with commentary by Carvel Collins]
Taking up the baton, Alexander Mackay-Smith became a noted scholar and a founder of the National Sporting Library in 1954. Almost three decades later, he spent three years researching Worcester Smith’s archive held at the NSL to complete the definitive biography and chronology, The Race Horses of America 1832 – 1872: Portraits and Other Paintings by Edward Troye, published by the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1981.

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A view of the Library exhibition with Portrait of Harry Worcester Smith, 1928,  by Richard Benno Adam (German, 1873 – 1937), Gift of the Saddle & Sirloin Club, Chicago, on the left and Alexander Mackay-Smith, 1955, painted in 1999 by Wallace Wilson Nall (American, 1923 – 2003) after a painting by Jean Bowman (American, 1917 – 1994)  on the right.

Troye, Worcester Smith, and Mackay-Smith shared a passion for sport and art that lives and breathes in the Library and Museum’s Coming Home Series: Edward Troye (1808-1874) exhibitions. We invite you to be inspired as well.

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

P.S. Annie Johnson, the Editor of Antebellum Turf Times, came out to explore these two exhibitions in-depth in October and wrote an article incorporating her research on Edward Troye and Thoroughbred racing which has just been published in American Racehorse magazine. Read article

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