Celebrating the Greyhound
Writing in Robert Leighton’s “The New Book of the Dog” (1907), Frederick Gresham noted the following: “The Greyhound is the oldest and most conservative of all dogs, and his type has altered singularly little during the seven thousand years in which he is known to have been cherished for his speed and kept by men for running down the gazelle or coursing the hare. The earliest references to him are far back in primitive ages, long before he was beautifully depicted by Assyrians, straining at the leash or racing after prey across the desert sands. The Egyptians loved him and appreciated him centuries before the Pyramids were built.”
The elegant form and classical beauty of the Greyhound have, throughout the centuries, appealed to artists. Greek artists were particularly fond of introducing those lines as ornamentation in their decorative workmanship; old Persian manuscripts and works of art show Greyhounds; the Greyhound became a symbolic creature on heraldry, and by the Middle Ages the breed had come to symbolize power, pageantry and majesty.
In this feature I offer a selection from the 15th to 21st centuries.
“The Vision of Saint Eustace” is from a painting by Pisanello (c.1395-c.1455) in the National Gallery in London. The work depicts Saint Eustace, placed by legend in the 2nd Century AD, before a stag, between the antlers of which is a crucifix. Eustace is portrayed as a huntsman dressed in the height of court fashion from the 15th Century.
According to legend, prior to his conversion to Christianity, Eustace was a Roman general named Placidus who served the Emperor Trajan. While hunting a stag in Tivoli near Rome, Placidus saw a vision of a crucifix lodged between the stag’s antlers. He immediately converted and changed his name to Eustace.
The first set of English rules for coursing was drawn up in the reign of Elizabeth I by Thomas, 4th Duke of Norfolk, providing for a pursuit of no more than two hounds, and a head start termed “Law” to be given to the hare for a fair run.
The engraving published in 1686 is a detail from a painting by Francis Barlow (c.1626-1704), the father of British sporting painting, and shows a course being run under such rules. More than just an image of coursing, it is an idealized social document of the period. Anglers fish in the river, cattle and horses graze in paddocks, and the family promenade in front of the baronial house. The mounted gentleman is Lord Rivers, riding out in front of the family seat, Rocksavage Hall, to watch his Greyhounds coursing.
Transfer printing on pottery and porcelain was first used by James Sadler of Liverpool in 1756, taking his inspiration from early Chinese hand-painted blue and white wares. About 40 years later the Staffordshire potters began to use this method.
The rare transfer-printed plate with the date mark for 1856 is a Staffordshire example. The rim of the plate has a molded decoration of ribbons and foliate garlands, and in the center panel the print. It features a young Queen Victoria with Eos the Greyhound and two other dogs, most likely her puppies, as the group shows a striking likeness to the dogs in George Morley’s picture in the Royal Collection, “Eos and her Puppies.” Eos became one of the best known of all Victorian dogs, thanks largely to Sir Edwin Landseer’s famous portrait of her, and was the constant and faithful companion of Prince Albert.
The porcelain mug, possibly Spode, with gilded decoration and featuring two Greyhounds in a parkland landscape, is a fine example of the high standard of transfer printing achieved in the 19th Century.
Until hare coursing was banned in the U.K. in 2004, the Waterloo Cup was one of the oldest continuous sporting events in the world. The early years of the 20th Century saw coursing dominated by great barons of the sport, among them industrialist brothers J.M. and S.M. Dennis. They certainly did things in style, and when Dendrapsis gave them their first Waterloo Cup win in 1909, they gave a dinner for all 600 of their employees at their engineering works. After the banquet there was a firework display, with the main attraction a set piece of Dendrapsis himself going fizzing up in rockets and roman candles.
Dendrapsis’ portrait was painted by sporting and animal painter Thomas Blinks (1853-1910), one of few painters to portray King George V in the hunting field.
Colonel John North made his fortune in the lucrative Chilean nitrate industry. At the dispersal sale of Edward Dent’s kennel, North bought for a then-record 850 guineas the young dog Fullerton. He went on to win the Waterloo Cup four times, the first in 1889, and is still regarded in coursing circles as the greatest Greyhound of all time. Exported to Russia, he was repatriated at vast expense by North when the dog proved sterile. Fullerton may be seen today, stuffed, in the Natural History Museum at Tring.
Farndon Ferry had been picked up for dead by Tom Wright, a great raconteur with an eye for a dog, apparently dead after a grueling course at a Border Union meeting, only to see the dog’s eye move half an hour later. He recovered and amazingly won the Waterloo Cup the following spring in 1902.
The pair of embossed antique chromed hearth ornaments are further embossed “Col North Fullerton” on the left and “Farndon Ferry” on the right.
Art Deco, the decorative style of the 1920s and 1930s inspired by abstract painting and Bauhaus design, often incorporated exotic motifs drawn from Aztec and Egyptian art. Influenced by geometrical forms, during its heyday it represented luxury, glamour and exuberance. The elegant, clean-lined Borzoi and Greyhound lent themselves as the ideal breeds of dog to complement all that Art Deco stood for. The large mural on a wall in the Bulkeley Hotel on the Isle of Anglesey epitomizes everything about Art Deco.
John Skeaping RA (1901-1980) was one of the most influential figures in the development of 20th-Century British art — the modern British movement. He was the inspiration for such artists as Henry Moore and Dame Barbara Hepworth, who went on to receive greater recognition that Skeaping did. Dame Barbara was his first wife; his second was Morwenna Skeaping, one of the pioneer breeders of Standard Poodles in the post-World War II period.
His two great loves were racehorses and Greyhounds, and they both feature in much of his art. He had a fascination for the South of France, in particular the Camargue with its horses and characters, and it was at an old mill in a village there that he spent most of his last years. Skeaping’s bronze of two Greyhounds was cast in 1978 in an edition of 20.
Zoe Whiteside is a British ceramic artist who studied art in the historical heart of the Staffordshire potteries. She has worked from studios in Britain and Sweden, and her work has been exhibited at a number of galleries, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and Leeds City Art Gallery. It is primarily a celebration of the animal, focusing particularly on bears and elephants.
The two hound heads were made in 2022 for an exhibition in London called “Ceramic Art London” and are individually built in clay and finished with slips and oxides.