Fri, 09/29/2023 - 1:32pm

Dogs in the Field ...

... and at auction

Improvements in firearms, the arrival of the Industrial Age — making for better communication and travel — and a greater distribution of wealth all contributed to the rise in popularity of all field sports. For the first time, a broader section of the population was able to enjoy them, either as participants or spectators.

As a natural progression, those who enjoyed such sports and pastimes wanted a permanent reminder, and as a result one sees an ever-increasing number of artists devoting their time to recording the pursuits. As long as there is not too much “gore” shown, the market for sporting-related pictures remains buoyant.

Pointers and setters were the gundog breeds that reigned supreme for generations. They covered large areas of open ground and moorland, hunting and finding game, and holding it on “point” or “sett” until the guns were in range or nets put in place. Land closure and improved firearms contributed to the popularity of lowland shooting, which was more close up. As a result, the second half of the 19th Century saw the development of spaniel and retriever breeds more suited for that type of shooting.



Pointing and setting breeds continued to be the breeds of choice for upland and moorland shooting, as is still the case today. The painting by George Earl (1827-1908) offered by Woolley and Wallis of an English Setter in a moorland setting is, in my opinion, not just one of the best studies of an English Setter of the period, but also one of Earl’s best works. It had expectations of between £3,000-5,000. Earl was a member of the great “Earl dynasty,” a member of the Kennel Club, setter owner and on the organizing committee of one of the first dog shows.

One of the most important projects for which George is often remembered is a series of portrait head studies of dogs, which he called “Champion Dogs of England,” completed around 1870 and which today in its complete state is exceedingly rare. Both the AKC Museum of the Dog and the Kennel Club in England have originals completed for this work.

Images of Greyhound-type dogs are among the earliest representations of “man’s best friend,” and coursing is arguably the oldest pastime with dogs, often as a matter of need to put “food on the table.” By the late Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, ruling monarchs kept large kennels of Greyhounds. For example, Louis XV of France had several packs, each reputed to have had 600 to 620 dogs, and James II of England considered hunting with his Greyhounds second only to his obsession of restoring England to Catholicism.

Coursing as an organized competitive sport dates from 1590, when the Duke of Norfolk drew up rules for its conduct. In Britain the first coursing club was formed in 1776 at Swaffham. In America earlier meets may have involved coursing small prairie antelope, and General George Custer himself was a coursing enthusiast. By 1876 at least the coursing of the Kansas jackrabbit had become a widely accepted sport in the Midwest.

Back in Britain, the Waterloo Cup became the premier coursing meet in the world, first run in 1836. By the end of the 19th Century, it was attracting upward of 60,000 spectators at each meet. At the time coursing was banned in Britain, it was one of the longest-running sporting events in the world. The first American Waterloo Cup was run in 1896 on ground at Horon in South Dakota and attracted nominations from states as far apart as New York and California.



Tennants sold a trio of coursing pictures for a top estimate of £3,000. They were attributed to Richard Jones (1767-1840), a sporting and equestrian artist. The first of the three featured two dogs about to be slipped with mounted spectators in the distance. The second showed the course, and the third the end of the course with the kill. In the dog world Jones is perhaps best known for his coursing subjects reproduced in Edward Ash’s “The Book of the Greyhound” (1933).



The greatest otter hunter of the 19th Century was the Hon. Geoffrey Hill, noted for the long distances he would travel on foot with his hounds. His Hawkstone pack – so named after the family estate – comprised pure rough hounds, not very big. He seldom exhibited, and when he did it was at the Birmingham National Show.

The oil applied to a photograph laid down on board is attributed to the photographer J. Laing of Shrewsbury, circa 1886. It shows Hill beside a tree with his pack and huntsmen on the banks of the River Wye. It was sold by Cheffins for £360. A hand-colored variation of this photograph sold in the Crufts auction in 2002 for £100, but the background was less detailed.

Parson Jack Russell is the most famous of all sporting clergymen, remembered today for a small Terrier known throughout the world. It all began with the legendary “Trump,” acquired by Russell during his time at Oxford University in 1819 from the local milkman. “Trump” was obviously a Fox Terrier of the period, and from her Russell bred a Terrier to suit his needs.

John Emms (1844-1912) was one of the leading dog painters whose studies of Foxhounds are the ones that excite the market most. He also painted many Terriers attached to working packs, this at a time when there was little difference between Jack Russell Terriers and Smooth Fox Terriers of the period. Emms painted both, including the Smooth Fox Terrier “Brockenhurst Dame,” owned by James Tinne, about whom the American authority on Fox Terriers John Marvin said, “He helped mold the future of the breed.”



Cheffins in a recent auction sold an Emms Terrier cataloged as a Fox Terrier but with points resembling both Jack Russells and Smooth Fox Terriers. Whichever, it overshot a £4,000-6,000 estimate and sold at £6,500. Only one higher price at auction is recorded for an Emms portrait of a similar Terrier, and that was £7,200 in 2000.



Titled “The Gamekeeper’s Daughter,” a particularly attractive picture by animal painter Heywood Hardy (1842-1933) combined both a gundog and Terriers: an English Setter and two Dandie Dinmonts. With their gamekeeper connections, all were probably working dogs. It sold in the Woolley and Wallis auction room for £12,000, over double its lower estimate. The unusual choice of breeds for either a gamekeeper or his daughter to own at that time suggests that the subjects could have been painted from life. It had appeared at auction last year with John Nicholson, where it sold for £6,800, a good return in 12 months.



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