Lot 55
  • 55

John Frederick Herring Sr.

600,000 - 900,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • John Frederick Herring Sr.
  • A Horse Fair on Southborough Common
  • signed J.F. Herring Senr and dated 1857&8 (lower right)
  • oil on canvas


Private Collection (acquired directly from the artist, April 24, 1858, thence by descent and sold, Christie's, London, July 16, 1976, lot 83, illustrated)
Edward Marlin, Esq.
Richard Green, London
Private Collector, Washington, D.C. (and sold, Christie’s, New York, June 8, 1984, lot 185, illustrated)
Acquired at the above sale


Christopher Wood, The Dictionary of Victorian Painters, 2nd ed., Woodbridge, 1978, illustrated on the cover
Oliver Beckett, J.F. Herring & Sons, London, 1981, p. 66, 126, no. 282, illustrated plate 20

Catalogue Note

In 1853, after twenty years in London, John Frederick Herring made an impulsive move to Kent in search of clean country air. Settled in the fine Georgian mansion of Meopham Park, near Tonbridge, and surrounded by the beautiful landscape of the Weald of Kent, Herring found new inspiration for his painting and employed local residents—plus their horses and livestock—as models. “Rural figures,” he explained, “we can command by a call or a whistle” (as quoted in Beckett, p. 60). While Herring had diversified his choice of subjects since moving from Newmarket to London in 1833, in Kent he transitioned  from the racing “portraits,” which earned him early fame to concentrate almost entirely on country subjects, barnyard vignettes and farming scenes, and paintings often of impressive scale and complexity like A Horse Fair on Southborough Common

The present work depicts an annual summer tradition in many of England’s rural communities, in which the horses stood for inspection or paraded along one of the Common’s paths to display their speed and agility. This attracted horse breeders and dealers as well as local landowners and admirers of the equine form. Among the animals of A Horse Fair on Southborough Common, Herring depicts working and racing breeds in varying shades of grey and chestnut coats; a gleaming white Arabian with red jacketed rider up races toward the viewer. This animal is most likely Imaum, the first of four horses given to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert from the Imaum of Muscat. The Queen, in turn, gave him to the Clerk of the Royal Stables, who sold him through Tattersall’s, where Herring was the successful bidder. He was clearly an impressive horse; on one occasion, Herring was reputedly approached by a gentleman in Piccadilly who offered him two hundred guineas for Imaum—an offer that was refused despite the potential profit. Imaum was a great favorite of the artist and appears in several of his most prominent paintings, including Shoeing Imaum (1856, sold, Sotheby’s London, December 17, 2009, lot 66), which rests on an easel in Herring’s photographic portrait of circa 1860 (fig. 1). The association between the Arabian, the artist, and his love of country life is personalized in the present work as Herring paints himself at the composition’s far left, one of the smartly dressed men appraising new stock.

While his move to Kent disconnected him from the racing world, masterful compositions like A Horse Fair on Southborough Common only further secured Herring’s reputation as one of the era’s greatest horse painters. Indeed, as Herring completed the present work, William Powell Frith was at work on his masterpiece Derby Day (1857, Tate Britian, London, fig. 2) and asked the elder Herring to collaborate in painting the horse and jockeys in the background. While the complex, multi-figure composition of A Horse Fair on Southborough Common points to Herring’s understanding of Victorian tastes for panoramic crowd scenes, it evidences a greater freedom and naturalistic style replacing the formality of his racing subjects. Herring avoids sentimentalizing these scenes of “simple” country life by maintaining a high level of detail and compositional construction that had long been his standard, one which was rarely eclipsed by his contemporaries. Paintings like A Horse Fair on Southborough Common commanded increasingly high prices paid by new patrons joining an already impressive roster which included the Duc d’Orleans, The Duchess of Kent (who appointed the artist her official Animal Painter) and Queen Victoria.