A Nose for Art
There are collectors who collect at the more “affordable” end of the market, those who must have everything, and those who concentrate on quality and artistic merit. The late Christina Clarke fitted into the latter category, and over the years she managed to assemble a fine collection of pictures and bronzes on the Bloodhound.
Christina was a very private person. She came into Bloodhounds in the early 1960s and for a few years thereafter did exhibit. All the hounds she owned were males; consequently she never bred a litter and her hounds were never offered at stud. She was passionate about Bloodhounds, supported both the Association of Bloodhound Breeders and the Bloodhound Club, and gave generously to dog charities.
In 1997 Christina and her late husband Mick, at their beautiful Elsenham Place home in Hertfordshire, part of which dates back to the 17th Century, hosted the centenary celebrations of the Association of Bloodhound Breeders. The celebration dinner was held in the historic Cruck Barn. There were visitors from many overseas countries, including quite a few from the States. They were fortunate that the event went ahead, as it was the same weekend Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris. Christina died in May this year, and the proceeds of her estate are going to charity.
Although her collection was never going to be large — Bloodhound art does not “grow on trees” — she had one of the best Bloodhound collections in the U.K., plus a good book collection, and had a good knowledge of antiques.
The collection was entrusted to Cheffins Fine Art and was included in a recent “The Fine Sale.” Interest was principally received from the Bloodhound fraternity with some from the local and international trade. Most were secured by U.K. bidders.
Most of the lots offered found new homes, surprisingly the only failure in the picture section being “Ch. Don,” painted by Charles Burton Barber (1845-1894), one of Queen Victoria’s favorite dog artists. Arguably the most interesting lot in terms of breed history, but the auction house’s expectations and lack of decorative appeal may have contributed to its failure. “Don” was born in 1875, owned by Mrs. Humphries and was a consistent winner in the U.K. and Germany. Burton Barber’s picture was reproduced in color in “The Illustrated Book of the Dog” (1879-1881) and had a recent provenance to Arthur Ackerman & Sons in London, leading art dealers.
Leading the pictures at £1,900 (estimate £150-300), and the one that excited the buyers the most, was a particularly evocative head study painted in 1901 by the little-known artist Miss Hope Meade of a hound named “Tacrin” owned by Mrs. S.T. Meares. It had a provenance to Bonhams “Dogs in Art” sale in 1994, where it sold for £850 and was from the collection formed by L. Osterman.
Another picture to exceed expectation, selling for £420 (£150-300), was Benedict Angell Hyland’s (1859-1931) head study painted in 1886 of a hound named “Bluecap,” who was born in 1882 and sired by “Ch. Rollo.” Bluecap was bred by Edwin Brough, one of the leading breeders of Bloodhounds at the time who helped formulate the original breed standard. In 1888, Brough and his hounds made an unsuccessful attempt to track down the infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper in London.
A picture showing a couple of Bloodhounds in the snow doing what Bloodhounds were bred to do — tracking — sold for £440 (£300-500). It was painted in 1884 by Robert Henry Roe (1822-1905).
Christina’s interest in hounds went beyond her beloved Bloodhounds, and a sepia wash heightened with white narrative picture by John Emms (1845-1912) sold for £800 (£800-1200). Titled “The Vet’s Visit,” it featured a pack of hounds at the end of a day’s hunting in a kennel yard, one being steadied by two huntsmen while the vet examines an injured foot. Standing in an open doorway is a kennel man, and in the foreground an obligatory hunt Terrier and a huntsman’s whip. In 1990 it had been exhibited in Ackermann’s “Sporting Paintings, Watercolours and Bronzes” and again in 2003 in The British Sporting Art Trust’s “Sporting Art in Britain.”
“Dignity and Impudence” by Sir Edwin Landseer is one of the most copied of all 19th-Century paintings of dogs and the one by which Landseer’s name is best remembered. It was first exhibited at The British Institution in 1839 under the title “Dogs,” bought by Jacob Bell for £50 and left by him to the nation. It is now in the Tate Gallery.
The two dogs in the picture are the Terrier “Scratch” and the Bloodhound “Grafton,” who was owned by Bell and often posed for painters and sculptors. The story goes that the owner of a Poodle bet Scratch’s owner that her dog was the prettier of the two, that wager to be decided by Landseer’s spontaneous reaction. The Poodle’s engaging tricks went unnoticed, but when he saw Scratch in the stable proclaimed, “Oh, what a beauty!”
“Dignity and Impudence” became the basis of various political cartoons, the best known featured in Punch and showed Prime Minister Disraeli as Dignity and the Irish-American playwright Dion Boucicault as Impudence.
As with all copies, quality varies, and the one in Christina’s collection was one of the best I had seen. The market thought the same, for it sold for £850 against a top estimate of £500.
The bronzes had a wider appeal beyond the canine and hunting worlds. They were led by Henri-Alfred-Marie Jacqemart’s (1824-1896) “Chien à la Tortue” (above), a Bloodhound studying a tortoise as it slowly walks in front of his nose, which sold for £1,400 (£600-800). Close on its heels at £1,300 (£1,000-1,500) was the sensitive and rare portrait by Jules-Bernard Gélibert (1835-1916) of “Druid” (below), a Bloodhound belonging to Prince Napoleon (later Napoleon III).
Selling mid-estimate for £550 was Alfred Dubucand’s group of a couple of tethered Bloodhounds (above) sculpted shown on the scent. A particularly expressive and well-sculpted Austrian cold-painted bronze of a standing Bloodhound (below) found a new home for £260 (£100-150). Such was the quality, one would have expected there to have been a signature.