Sporting! Salon Poster
Edited Transcripts

Sporting! With Liz Wilner and Oriella Charik

Fun Fact: This is the first Salon to be held in the new Aether Salon building. 

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Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Our speakers have been here several times before. Her Grace Liz, Duchess of Trikassi in Rosehaven, and her court wizardess, the Lady Oriella Charik, host the Relay for Life fundraising Royal Ascot event annually. Each year, they present a new aspect of equine and racing history to us. Damen, the floor is yours.

Liz Wilner: Greetings, everyone! Thank you all for coming. Today, Lady Charik and I will discuss the art genre collectively known as Sporting Art, with a special concentration on British artists and artworks.

The genre itself has been often considered a “lesser genre”…with critics often passing works off as mere “lovely landscapes with farm animal”, or “vanity pieces for wealth aristocrats”… but this is quite the misnomer.

It is an exciting genre spanning the 17th century to the present day. Appealing to a wide international base of collectors, it encompasses a range of subjects, from the thrill of the hunt to the denizens of the African plains horse racing to fox-hunting, fishing, game-shooting and hare-coursing, as well as cataloging prize farm animals via commissioned works.

World-record prices have been achieved in recent years for artists including Sir Alfred Munnings, James Seymour, Sir Peter Scott, Lionel Edwards, Wilhelm Kuhnert and David Shepherd. George Stubbs remains a pre-eminent painter to collect.

Sporting art concerns itself, above all, with the natural world and man’s relationship to it.

It perhaps explains why it thrived throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and even into the 20th century. Sporting pictures celebrate the environment people lived in — the English landscape.

To truly give you a feel for the genre, we would like to begin with a short video from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

This video perfectly introduces the genre, much better than anything Lady Charik or I could write. The video is 5 minutes long…so quite short.

Please click on this Kinematograph tile to obtain the link, then find the ‘Full Screen’ button bottom right of the video to enlarge it. If you have ‘Autoplay’ set then please stop at the end of the video, which is about Five Minutes long.

For those of you wishing to watch on another viewer, the YouTube link is:

Lady Charik has used her Wizard skills to also have this viewer here. Please start the video all together so that we may keep in time. Lady Charik will count down to start the video.

Oriella Charik: OK, Press play now!

Liz Wilner: it is a really good introduction to the genre, yes?

In the early 18th century, breeders had begun to cross Arabian stallions with English mares, and the thoroughbred racehorse was duly born. The breed was soon all the rage.

The likes of Marshall and his master George Stubbs (1724-1806) depicted these horses at race meetings, and their pictures are at the core of a genre known as sporting art.

Speaking of Marshall, At the turn of the 19th century, the English artist Ben Marshall (1768-1835) claimed he knew ‘many a man who will pay 50 guineas for painting his horse [yet] thinks 10 guineas too much for painting his wife.’

Marshall was one of many artists who made a handsome living from aristocrats wanting to have their steeds captured on canvas. Her is an example of Marshall called The Malcom Arabian.

George Stubbs, sometimes referred to as the ‘Liverpudlian Leonardo’, is arguably the greatest painter of horses who ever lived. In large part, this was down to the scientific rigor and anatomical accuracy he brought to his work: the product of 18 months during which he locked himself away in a barn as a young man, dissecting, closely examining and drawing horses.

He’d go on to count various dukes and marquesses, not to mention the Prince of Wales (the future George IV), as his patrons.

Whistlejacket, Stubbs’ life-size portrait of the eponymous racehorse, is one of the most popular paintings in the National Gallery in London.

There are many other excellent artists of the genre, yet nearly all are compared to Stubbs.

John Ferneley Senior (1781-1860) The sixth son of a Leicestershire wheelwright, Ferneley moved to London to study at the Royal Academy School, before returning to his home county and settling in Melton Mowbray.

The Quorn in Full Cry

John Frederick Herring Senior (1795-1865) He started out as a coachman on routes between London and Yorkshire, painting only in his spare time. In due course, he settled in Doncaster — one of the stops on his drives — and became an artist full-time, painting the horses of numerous Yorkshire families.

Among his best-known works are those of the winners of prestigious horse races, such as the St Leger Stakes and the Derby, which he attended each year.

In 1845, he was asked by Queen Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent, to paint the monarch’s two favourite horses. The resultant painting, Tajar and Hammon, was given to Victoria as a birthday present and forms part of the Royal Collection today.

Archibald Thorburn (1860-1935) Much like Stubbs, Thorburn was a supreme observer — however birds rather than horses were his specialist subject.

He made frequent and extensive tours across the British Isles, seeking ornithological subjects to study.

This often crossed over into sporting scenes, in images of driven grouse, for example. He created watercolours in the field, and they have a remarkable sense of immediacy because of this.

Cock Grouse

Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) Named a Royal Academician while still in his twenties and knighted while in his forties.

Perhaps the most enduring reminders of his talent are the four bronze lions on London’s Trafalgar Square, which he modelled.

A favourite of Queen Victoria’s, Landseer made his name with pictures of stags, horses and dogs that exhibit very human behaviours.

The cut-and-thrust of his hunting scenes owed a clear debt to those of the Flemish master, Peter Paul Rubens, from 200 years earlier.

John Emms (1843-1912) Emms began as a studio assistant to Frederic, Lord Leighton, before striking out on his own as an animal portraitist.

He was praised for the vitality and individuality of his subjects, and particularly renowned for his dogs. Often these were hounds, boasting a remarkable range of freshness/tiredness and depicted with confident, fluid brushstrokes.

Emms was a keen huntsman himself and regularly went out with the packs of the New Forest area, where he lived most of his life.

The Bolted Rabbit

Sir Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) After serving as a war artist, recording the activities of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade in France during the First World War, Munnings made a career out of horse-racing pictures and hunting scenes.

His style and subject matter were strongly influenced by the French Impressionist, Edgar Degas (who had also painted racing scenes).

Munnings particularly liked to capture that moment of hushed tension just before the race’s start, as the jockeys in their brightly colored silks prepare for the eruption of energy and excitement.

As a young man at the turn of the 20th century, Munnings was fascinated by the vagabond existence of the gypsies and travellers he met while exploring the country on horseback. Their unconventional lifestyle and brightly colored clothes and wagons inspired many of his early pictures, such as the Fortune Tellers at Epsom.

While the first image anyone has of the genre of Sporting Art is of horses, horse racing, and various animals, there is a smaller area of the genre that depicted other popular sports and pastimes of the eras. For instance, here we have Boxing and Badger Baiting

In the 19th century, there was nothing more impressive than having the money to have a painting of one’s prize cow or pig. Wealthy British landowners were breeding animals larger and fatter than ever before. Proud of their achievements and eager for recognition, they commissioned paintings of themselves and their livestock.

And the public couldn’t get enough of them.

The early 1800s was the peak of livestock painting. For farm animals, corpulence was key. In the paintings, the cow, sheep, and pigs are massive, yet oddly supported by only four spindly legs. Sometimes, their owner is painted in as well, proudly looking over their creation.

Other times the animal stands alone, seemingly ready to eat a nearby village. The simple style is often referred to as rustic or “naive” art, even though the subjects were animals belonging to a wealthy elite. The resulting images were part advertisement and part spectacle.

Fat cows, massive pigs, and obese sheep were prized as proof of their owners’ success in breeding for size and weight. Gentleman farmers used selective breeding to create quick-growing, heavy livestock.

Along with breeding, new farming and feeding practices also produced larger animals. Rich farmers participated in agricultural competitions and read new research. They were called “improvers,” since they tried to improve on existing animal breeds.

Methods such as feeding cows oil cakes and turnips for a final fattening up before slaughter became widespread. Even Queen Victoria’s consort Prince Albert became an improver, showing off his prize pigs and cattle.

Commissioned paintings and commercial prints often came with information like the animal’s measurements and the owner’s breeding efforts.

The portraits were often exaggerated to emphasize the idealized animal shape, which usually consisted of “[providing] a bit more fat in crucial areas.” For pigs, the ideal was a football shape. Cows were rectangular, and sheep tended towards oblong.

Beyond making wealthy farmers famous, animal paintings and prints had a practical purpose.

Breeders across the country could use a specific animal’s image as a model for their own herd, since livestock that fit beauty ideals were worth much more.

My favorite is the huge pig…looks like he will eat that village!

Oriella Charik: Our last picture is a sentimental one by Landseer.


Liz Wilner: We hope you enjoyed our presentation today. We will be hosting a month long exhibit, beginning June 1 thru June 30th, at Ravenheart Museum of Arts, Culture & Curious Things in Laudanum, Rosehaven on British Sporting Art.

Liz Wilner: Please click on the poster for a landmark

5 Siddal Street – Ravenheart Museum

Liz Wilner: The exhibit will be even more in depth and we hope you will all stop by and enjoy the many beautiful artworks.

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