Lot 57
  • 57

John Frederick Herring Sr.

900,000 - 1,200,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • John Frederick Herring Sr.
  • The famous trotter Confidence drawing a gig
  • signed J.F. Herring Sen., inscribed Confidence, and dated 1842 (lower right)
  • oil on canvas


Mr. William Murray, England (circa 1920)
Mrs. J. Lockwood (by descent from the above)
Mrs. J.M. Colvin (whose estate sold, Christie's, London, November 18, 1988, lot 40, illustrated)
Private Collection, United States (acquired from the sale, and sold, Sotheby's, New York, December 5, 2002, lot 29)


London, Arthur Ackermann & Sons, A Loan Exhibition: John Frederick Herring Sr., April-May 1965, no. 23


Stella Walker, Sporting Art in England 1700-1900, London, 1972, pp. 130, 139, no. 87, illustrated
Oliver Beckett, J.F. Herring and Sons, London, 1981, p. 113, no. 143

Catalogue Note

Bred in New York, Confidence was purchased for 750 gns. by Louis Buonaparte and presented to the Duke of Richmond (1791-1860).  Confidence was unbeaten throughout his successful career, and in his final match, run on October 18, 1839 for £100 a side, he defeated his opponent with ease covering two miles over Sunbury Common in five minutes and thirty-nine seconds, winning great admiration throughout the sporting world. Contemporaries described the horse as being "remarkably handsome, quiet and tractable and allowed by all judges [to be] the most complete trotter in existence" (as inscribed on label on the reverse of the canvas). 

In the sport of trotting, also known as harness racing, a Standardbred horse is harnessed to a two-wheeled vehicle, or sulky.  With roots in ancient chariot racing, the popularity of trotting took hold in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as owners raced their horses and buggies down urban roads.  The sport was thought to have been born in America in 1788, when the thoroughbred English horse Messenger dashed through the Market street wharf in Philadelphia. The popularity of trotting continued to grow in the United States in the first few decades of the nineteenth century, and in 1823, nearly 50,000 spectators journeyed to Queens to witness the first official trotting race between Sir Henry and Eclipse.  Two years later, the New York Trotting Club was formed, welcoming enthusiasts such as Hiram Woodruff, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Robert Bonner.  By the mid-nineteenth century, trotting had become an organized sport in America, but enthusiasm for the sport extended across the Atlantic to France, Holland, Germany, and Britain.  

Herring’s painting, The famous trotter Confidence drawing a gig, renders the speed of the horse and carriage moving elegantly through space. Their brisk motion is conveyed by the horse’s mane and tail aloft, with all four legs off the ground, dust kicked up around them and by the high wheels of the sulky.  The design of the carriage presented an interesting challenge for racers, as John Fairley writes, “with trotting, technology offers opportunities not available to thoroughbred racers… the characteristic sulky with two high wheels, finely fashioned with slender spokes, had become the dominant vehicle… It is not the epic matches that loom in the sport’s annals but the first horses to squeeze inside the constricting rigours of the stop watch” (John Fairly, Racing in Art, New York, 1990, p. 178-9).

The paintings of John Frederick Herring, Sr. are undoubtedly the most accurate depictions of the history of the turf in the first half of the nineteenth century.  While he most often portrayed racehorses with jockeys up, in this lively composition, filled with energy and movement, Herring has captured the power and elegance of one of the most celebrated trotters to ever run.