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.

newmarket-races-by-james-pollard
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.

(c)VMFA_96-24_v1DS201703
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/)
SONY DSC
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.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

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.

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.

2
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.


SONY DSC

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

I recently spent some time in Berlin visiting several amazing museums. The collections in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (State Museums of Berlin) are incredible – from major examples of ancient art to fabulous modern and contemporary pieces. During my travels, I encountered quite a few works that reminded me of Middleburg and the NSLM. Here are just a few:

The Old National Gallery in Berlin primarily features German artists – some familiar and some lesser known.

Wilhelm Trubner (German, 1851-1917), Equestrian Portrait of Ida Gorz, 1900/1902, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Old National Gallery), Acquired 1921

My poor quality photo doesn’t do this painting justice – it is quite a striking portrait.

Adolph Menzel (German, 1815-1905), Horse study, 1848, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Old National Gallery), Acquired 1906

 

Carl Steffeck (German, 1818-1890), Fox in its Burrow, 1842, oil on canvas, mounted on cardboard, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Old National Gallery), Purchase of Ernst Zaeslein, Grunewald, 1911

With the upcoming show The Horse in Ancient Greek Art on my mind, mythological horses keep popping up everywhere.

Hippocamp (half-horse, half-sea serpent creatures) details on the Friedrichstrausse bridge, over the Spree River, Berlin.

 

Attic (Athens), Greece, Votive Relief for a Chariot Victory, 400–390 BCE, marble, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Altes Museum), Acquired 1884. Caption reads: “The nude warrior wearing a helmet next to the bearded charioteer is about to jump off the speeding chariot to continue the race on foot.”

 

The German History Museum has a massive collection of almost 1 million objects, spanning the history of Germany from the Middle Ages to the late-20th century.

Gothic Field Armour, c. 1470, iron, German History Museum

 

This 15th century set of battle armor is made of iron. The caption explained that it was so heavy – for both horse and rider – that the knights and their steeds could only fight for a very short amount of time before being overcome by exhaustion. (At least this rider has his heels down).

Sidesaddle, c. 1700, leather, silk, velvet, German History Museum

This early-18th century ladies sidesaddle with velvet cushioning looked like it would be very comfortable.

Hare Hunting und Bird Hunting, 2nd half of the 18th century, oil on canvas, German History Museum

This pair of 18th century sporting scenes show hare hunting and bird hunting with hounds. I thought it was interesting that the hunter in the second scene is mounted on a paint (it almost looks like an appaloosa) horse. Hunting was a large part of social life for royal and noble families of German speaking territories throughout the 16th to 19th centuries. Coursing was adopted by German princes (from the French) around the end of the 17th century.

On a day trip to Hamburg, I discovered the Museum of Arts and Crafts. This fabulous suit is an “Original/Interpretation” piece in the exhibition Sports/No Sports, which explores the correlation between fashion and sportswear.

Foxhunting Ensemble, Museum of Arts and Crafts, Hamburg

The Museum of Fine Arts in Hamburg also has an impressive collection, including this Renoir (with it’s very Renoir-esque figures).

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919), Riding in the Bois de Boulogne, 1873, oil on canvas, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Acquired 1913

 

This is just a tiny selection of all the wonderful art there is to see in Germany. It was fun to explore new museums and collections and discover pieces that remind me of the art here at home.

This coming Saturday is a big day in the horse racing world! You don’t need us to tell you that May 6 is the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The Virginia Gold Cup is also this Saturday, just down the road from us at Great Meadow in The Plains.

There are so many amazing horses, talented people, spectacular stories, and fun facts associated with both of these big events – we could never share them all. Here are just a few stories about some of the four-legged stars connected with the collections here at the NSLM.

Sea Hero
This long-shot bay colt won the Derby in 1993. Today, Sea Hero is the oldest living Kentucky Derby winner and is enjoying a life of retirement standing at stud in Turkey.

Sea Hero
Tessa Pullan (English, b. 1953), Sea Hero, 1995, bronze, on stone base, 88 x 29 ½ x 96 inches, including base, Bequest of Paul Mellon, 1999, Acquired 2014 [(c) Tessa Pullan]
Determine
One of the very few grey horses to win the Derby (only eight have ever done so), Determine won in 1954 – the same year the National Sporting Library was founded.

Man O’War
One of the most famous names in American horse racing never actually ran in the Kentucky Derby, but his progeny went on to win quite a few. The chestnut stallion’s offspring included 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral, and he is found in the bloodlines of most top thoroughbreds, all the way up to American Pharaoh (2015) and Nyquist (2016). Another son was steeplechaser Battleship, the first American horse to win the English Grand National Steeplechase in 1938.

Marilyn Newmark (American, 1928-2013), Man O’War, 1977, bronze, 10 ½ x 14 ¾ x 3 ½ inches, Gift of Jacqueline B. Mars, 2016.  Newmark, who is known primarily for her equestrian sculpture, created this posthumous portrait after referencing the many photographs documenting the champion thoroughbred.

Gallant Fox
Gallant Fox was the second horse to ever win the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont races (1930), and the first to be referred to as a “Triple Crown” winner by the press. Gallant Fox: A Memoir, written in 1931 by the horse’s owner, William Woodward, Sr., is one of the scarcest books ever printed by the Derrydale Press. The copy in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room here at the NSLM is numbered one of fifty (but the whereabouts of only five copies are currently recorded).

The Celebrated Horse Lexington, by Boston, out of Alice Carneal, and Churchill Downs, Derby Day, c. 1946, Published by Currier & Ives, Gift of Mrs. Parker Poe, 1978

Lexington
Lexington never ran in the Derby either. In fact, he died in 1875, the first year the Kentucky Derby was run. But Lexington was the leading sire in America for decades. This print in the NSLM collection features a portrait of Lexington after Louis Maurer (German/American, 1832-1932). The portrait is surrounded by images of the first 71 Derby winners – from Aristides (1875), up through Hoop Jr. (1945).

Secretariat
You can see a portrait of the 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, along with Derby winners Smarty Jones (2004), Barbaro (2006), and many other gorgeous thoroughbreds in our newest exhibition Andre Pater: In a Sporting Light.

Andre Pater (Polish/American, b. 1953), Secretariat, 2004, pastel on board, 20 x 24 inches, Private Collection [(c) Andre Pater]

Happy Race Day!

For those of you who have been to one of my gallery talks, you’ve probably figured out that I love to share ideas about sporting art, sporting culture, and related trivia. It’s a passion to bring this material to broader audiences. Put me behind a podium, however, introducing someone with an impressive list of credentials, and I’m like a deer in headlights! All of a sudden I’m responsible for summarizing someone’s accomplishments. This is the worst kind of pressure, and I am not good at rote memorization.

Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (American, 1819 - 1905) American Deer, 1857 oil on canvas, 7 ⅛ x 5 ⅝ inches Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Timothy Greenan, 2011
Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (American, 1819 – 1905) American Deer, 1857, oil on canvas, 7 ⅛ x 5 ⅝ inches National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Timothy Greenan, 2011

I like to think I’m more like A.F. Tait’s American Deer when presenting gallery talks, poised and dignified (with a dose of caffeine). You might have seen this painting in the second floor Museum galleries, but it is currently off view. Although Tait painted several full-size canvases of deer, some reminiscent of Sir Edwin Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen in the Museums of Scotland collection, the small three-quarter portrait in the NSLM collection is unusual for him. It depicts an eight-point buck with a velvet rack and summer coat framed by foliage. Fun fact – Did you know that antlers used for sparring in the fall are rich with nerves and sensitive to pain when in velvet? Bucks are extremely aware of their racks and avoid contact with objects such as tree limbs during this time.

Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) Monarch of the Glen; National Museums Scotland; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/monarch-of-the-glen-184975
Edwin Landseer (English, 1802-1873), Monarch of the Glen, 1851
National Museums Scotland
image source: http://www.artuk.org/artworks/monarch-of-the-glen-184975

Landseer’s magnificent portrait of a red deer in the Highlands shows the buck proudly displaying his twelve-point rack and thick winter coat. Paintings like these were embraced by an ever-increasing urban population as windows into nature.

I know I would not get tired of looking at Landseer’s painting. Working in a converted 1804 Federal-style house means that the Curatorial offices in the Museum are below ground level. Mine is the only one with a window. I enjoy the filtered sunlight and occasionally get a glimpse of the lawn service crew mowing the grass.

Curator of Art's window

I think I speak for George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian John Connolly, Curator of Permanent Collections Nicole Stribling, and myself in saying, we enjoy sharing the topics we love with  like-minded people instead of just a computer screen. Gallery Talks are about sharing ideas and intended to be informal chats that last about a half hour. If you’ve been wondering if you would like to commit your Wednesday afternoon to a Gallery Talk, know that we are down in the trenches and looking forward to coming up for some good conversation. See you next Wednesday at 2 pm!


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

The majority of works in the art collection of the NSLM are by British or American artists. However, we also have some excellent examples by continental European artists. Our only painting by a Dutch artist also happens to be one of the oldest paintings in the collection.

Portrait of a Horse in a Landscape, c. 1690, oil on panel, 18 7/8 x 23 ¼ inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Mrs. Henry H. Weldon, 2008
Portrait of a Horse in a Landscape, c. 1690, oil on panel, 18 7/8 x 23 ¼ inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Mrs. Henry H. Weldon, 2008

Portrait of a Horse in a Landscape was painted by Abraham van Calraet (Dutch, 1642–1722) around 1690. Calraet was from the city of Dordrecht, in the southwest region of The Netherlands. He lived and worked during the later half of the great Dutch “Golden Age,” a time of amazing artistic production, when artists like Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals, and Judith Leyster flourished. Calraet painted still lifes, landscapes, and small horse portraits, or “Pferdeporträts,” which were increasingly popular in the late-17th century. He likely studied with another Dordrecht painter, the more well-known Aelbert Cuyp (Dutch, 1620-1691). Both artists often signed their works with their initials “A.C.”, which led to some confusion. For many years – centuries, actually – works by Calraet were attributed to Cuyp. In many instances, Cuyp’s signature was falsely added to the paintings. It wasn’t until the early-20th century that scholars started identifying which of those works were actually by Calraet.

Calraet_head detail

The dark bay horse in the NSLM painting has a broad chest, substantial build, and a kind eye. He is shown standing in a field with no tack and no humans to be seen, though he is shod and clearly well cared for. Most of the background is made up of sky and clouds. The landscape below features a small group of cows lounging near the river bank (a common scene in Dutch paintings of this time period). The modestly sized oil painting is on wood panel, rather than canvas.

Calraet_hoof detail
detail of hooves, with horseshoe nails
Calraet_cow detail
detail of cows in background

It is not known whether the painting was commissioned by the owner of the horse, or if the artist chose the subject because it would sell well on the open market. But we do know that the exact same dark bay horse appears in another Calraet painting from the same time period.

Abraham van Calraet, Horses in a Marsh Landscape, c.1690, oil on panel, 15 x 20 1/8 inches, Private Collection
Abraham van Calraet, Horses in a Marsh Landscape, c.1690, oil on panel, 15 x 20 1/8 inches, Private Collection

Here the dark bay has been joined by a chestnut friend, and a more typical Dutch landscape (with a meadow and windmills) is shown in the background.

Another Calraet work which bears similarities to our painting is in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

A Brown and White Horse with a Saddle Beside It, 1675-1685, oil on oak panel, 13 ½ x 17 ½ inches, Victoria & Albert Museum, Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend, 1868, © Victoria & Albert Museum
A Brown and White Horse with a Saddle Beside It, 1675-1685, oil on oak panel, 13 ½ x 17 ½ inches, Victoria & Albert Museum, Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend, 1868, © Victoria & Albert Museum

Like the NSLM piece, this painting is also on wood panel, and a lone horse is the focus. While this horse is a paint, the conformation and sweet expression are very similar to our dark bay. The background is much darker, and the foreground here shows barnyard supplies – a 17th century saddle and tack, a curry comb and brush, a bucket, and a clog shoe. All three of these paintings include a feature the artist and his contemporaries often incorporated into compositions – the tree or tree stump in the very near foreground.

The NSLM’s Calraet horse is quite well traveled (those Dutch warmbloods are such jet setters). During its lifetime, the painting has been included in exhibitions in London, Dordrecht, Paris, Birmingham, Alabama, New Orleans, and Baltimore, Maryland.  In 2008, the work came to stay at its new home here at the NSLM, when it was generously donated by Mrs. Henry H. Weldon.

Portrait of a Horse in a Landscape is currently on view in the permanent collection galleries of the Museum. Stop by and meet him soon!