Sport and Panelling at the Bowes

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on July 28, 2010

From the Bowes Museum’s website:

British Sporting Art
Bowes Museum, County Durham, England, 11 May — 10 October 2010

British Sporting Art, will explore the genre of Sporting Art in Britain, from horseracing and hunting to boxing, football and cricket. Central to the theme of the exhibition, which will include works by George Stubbs, Sir Alfred Munnings and George Morland, is John Bowes, the founder of the Museum and the first man to lift the renowned Triple Crown. Inspired by Bowes’ love for horseracing and its importance to the story behind The Bowes Museum, this exhibition will explore his prolific racing career and the wider genre of Sporting Art.

The branch of painting which has come to be known as British Sporting Art was at its height during the 18th Century, when horseracing fervour swept the nation. It was a golden age for sporting artists, the most famous of which was Stubbs, with an urge to immortalise winners on canvas. Despite it being rejected by connoisseurs as a low form of art, and by Sir Joshua Reynolds as
genre painting, Stubbs was a significant presence at the Royal Academy annual exhibitions, to huge critical acclaim.

Featured in the display will be the Museum’s painting, Cotherstone, by J F Herring Jnr, and John Ferneley’s Beeswing. The former was bought at auction from Christie’s in New York in 2006, Cotherstone being one of Bowes’ most successful racehorses, while the latter is on long term loan to the Museum. Beeswing won 51 from 64 races, becoming quite a celebrity, with several public houses named after her.

Artists such as Gillray, whose work also features in the exhibition, were quite different from those depicting field sports. They produced detailed portraits of boxers and comical sporting scenes, which were reproduced in popular print form. The exhibition will consider whether this in itself is a statement about the class system in the 18th Century, particularly as the print industry became prominent. It will also consider the next generation of painters – Herring Snr & Jnr and Henry Alken, who faced less prejudice than their predecessors, and will conclude with more recent sporting paintings by Munnings, whose hunting scenes are instantly recognisable. Lifelike bronzes of racehorses, deer and gundogs, by sculptor Sally Arnup, will enhance the sporting art.

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As noted at Art Daily (27 July), the Bowes Museum’s ‘Object of the Month’ for August is the panelling from the London townhouse of Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield.

Chesterfield, best known for his letters to his [illegitimate] son, giving advice on how to behave and get on in society, was also an international diplomat who desired a house fully up-to-date in style. His house was the first in England to show the ornate rococo style imported from France in the mid-18th Century. . . . Chesterfield House was demolished in 1937 and parts of the ante-room were brought up to Sunderland. The panelling was presented by Sir Nicholas Williamson of Whitburn Hall in 1968. It forms the centrepiece of the Museum’s new galleries devoted to English Interiors 1500-1900.

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