A Century of British Painters

By Samuel Redgrave; Richard Redgrave | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
THE ANIMAL PAINTERS OF THE EIGHTEENTH
CENTURY

OUR countrymen have ever been lovers of the chase and of the racecourse, and, such being the case, it is natural that after the portraits of the squire and his dame, and the goodly array of sons and daughters, who served to uphold the family name, the portraits of their most famous hunters and racers would be objects of desire to our country gentlemen. Hence it is that while in the dining-room and staircase gallery of the country mansions of our old landed proprietors we are often introduced to their interminable ancestry, bewigged and bepowdered, or to the toasts and beauties that fired them to feats of noble horsemanship, the hall itself is surrounded with portraits of the animals that carried them in the field, or filled or emptied their pockets on the racecourse, each horse led, as it might be, by the favourite groom or the successful jockey of the day.

The love for this art at the time we are describing was gratified by John Wootton, born about 1686, an animal and landscape painter of merit, who was a pupil of John Wyck the younger, and imbibed the traditions of the Flemish school of painters. He furnished the halls and galleries of our old family mansions with views of the estate, and portraits of the class we have described, of the favourite horses and dogs. Frequenting Newmarket, he made himself known as an animal painter. He drew with great spirit. He painted hunting-pieces, which were much esteemed, and were engraved, and he received as much as forty guineas for the portrait of a single horse. Later, he applied himself to landscape, imitating, but at a long distance, the manner of Claude and then of Poussin. Looking at him, however, only as a horse painter, we are inclined to think better of him. His works may be seen in the royal collection, and at Blenheim, Longleat, Althorp, Ditchley, and other mansions, but their merits are obscured by the blackness which has come over them.

It cannot be said that patronage of the kind alluded to did, or was likely to do, much for art, but Wootton made some property by it and built himself a house in Cavendish Square, which he decorated with his paintings, and here he died in January 1765.

During Wootton's career, James Seymour was also celebrated as a

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