The changing exhibitions displayed in the Museum give us the opportunity to see works of art in a new light. We can reunite works that have long been separated in different collections, or juxtapose objects which are not normally displayed with each other, or gather together multiple works by the same artist.

In the case of our current exhibition, A Sporting Vision: The Paul Mellon Collection of British Sporting Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, on view through July 22, 2018, we have the opportunity to view works of art by British sporting artists Benjamin Marshall, John Ferneley, Sr., and Sir Francis Grant, and compare them with works by the same artists in the NSLM’s permanent collection.

Benjamin Marshall (English, 1768-1835), Mr. Thomas Willan of Marylebone Park and Twyford Abbey, 1818, oil on canvas, 34 x 40 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Kathryn James Clark in memory of Stephen C. Clark, Jr., 2013

The more time you spend looking at works of art by the same artist, the more you begin to recognize that artist’s style, or “hand,” as art historians often like to say. This portrait by Benjamin Marshall, which is part of the NSLM permanent collection, shows a gentleman named Thomas Willan on his hunt horse. Willan owned a large farm in Marylebone Park, which is located in the present day area of Regent’s Park, London. His gothic-style manor house and gardens were known as Twyford Abbey. While the man and his horse are painted in glossy detail, the thinly-painted background is hazy and indistinct. There is a glimpse of fence line and gate on the viewer’s right and the hint of a waterway on the left. If the manor house is there, it is lost in the muted tones of the loosely painted landscape.

Benjamin Marshall (English, 1768-1835), Noble, a Hunter Well Known in Kent, c. 1805-1810, oil on canvas, 40 ⅛ x 50 inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Paul Mellon Collection, 99.80. (c)Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Other works by Marshall now on view in A Sporting Vision show a similar treatment of background and subject. In the portrait of Noble, a Hunter Well Known in Kent (where the horse is actually the “sitter”), the landscape is made up of loose brush strokes, with lots of sky and indistinct features. Hounds and huntstaff are shown faintly in the background.

Benjamin Marshall (English, 1768-1835), Colonel Henry Campbell Shooting on a Moor, ca. 1806, oil on canvas, 33⅞ x 40⅛ inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Paul Mellon Collection, 99.81. Photo: Travis Fullerton © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

We see it again in Colonel Henry Campbell Shooting on a Moor. The more you look at Marshall’s works, the more you can recognize similarities in the way he paints his figures as well.

John Ferneley, Sr. (English, 1781-1860), and Sir Francis Grant (Scottish, 1803-1878), The Hunt in Belvoir Vale, c. 1835, oil on canvas, 48 x 133 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Kathryn James Clark in memory of Stephen C. Clark, Jr., 2013

Works on view by John Ferneley, Sr., and Francis Grant are connected as well. Ferneley briefly tutored the younger artist and the two collaborated on The Hunt in Belvoir Vale, which is part of the NSLM permanent collection. This mural-sized group portrait from the mid-1830s shows gentlemen foxhunting near the town of Melton Mowbray, highly popular foxhunting territory outside of London. Thirteen of the riders in the foreground are identified portraits, including Grant at the far left side. The painting was commissioned by the Earl of Wilton (1799-1882), who is pictured leading the group.

Detail of The Hunt at Belvoir Vale showing the Earl of Wilton, who commissioned the painting, leading on the chestnut horse.
Detail of The Hunt at Belvoir Vale, with self-portrait of artist Francis Grant at left.

The Sporting Vision exhibition includes several works by Ferneley and one by Grant.

Sir Francis Grant (Scottish, 1803–1878), The Melton Hunt Going to Draw the Ram’s Head Cover, 1839, oil on canvas, 35 15/16 x 60 inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Paul Mellon Collection, 85.494.1. Photo: Katherine Wetzel © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

The Melton Hunt Going to Draw the Ram’s Head Cover was painted by Grant a few years after the NSLM painting. This group portrait features 36 identified figures riding with the Quorn Hunt, also in the Melton Mowbray area. The Earl of Wilton appears here as well, at center in the long grey coat, along with members of his family. The Countess of Wilton and her son Lord Grey de Wilton ride in the phaeton (a light-weight, four wheeled carriage) pulled by two palomino colored ponies. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1839.  Grant went on to a successful painting career and was President of the Royal Academy from 1866 to 1878.

When you are here at the Museum next, I hope you enjoy taking time to compare and contrast the wonderful highlights of British sporting art that are currently on view.

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