Lot 370
  • 370

Basil Blackshaw, H.R.H.A

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
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  • Basil Blackshaw, H.R.H.A
  • The Fall
  • signed u.l.: BLACKSHAW
  • oil on canvas
  • 101 by 121cm., 39¾ by 47¼in.
  • Painted in 1976.


The Tom Caldwell Gallery, Belfast;
Purchased in 2007 by the present owner


Original canvas. Some faint signs of craquelure in the background above the rider and along the right edge; otherwise the work appears in very good overall condition. Under ultraviolet light there appear to be no signs of retouching. Held under glass in a silver wood box frame; unexamined out of frame.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The Fall is emblematic of a way of life for Basil Blackshaw who had horses in his blood. 

His father before him had the same passion for horses and like Basil broke horses, rode them and reared them. From when Basil was knee high to a grasshopper he was hopping up on ponies and horses. 

I have written many times that Blackshaw was 'an edge of society man.' He liked risk and playing with danger. He loved cock fighting, highly illegal, and he was also a keen follower of boxing. The idea of breaking the rules came naturally to Blackshaw in his life and in his art. 

Irish Times art critic Aidan Dunne labelled Blackshaw 'the Bob Dylan' of Irish art - an 'art delinquent' who thrived on breaking the rules traditionally held to be the template for proper art making.

The Fall replete with the  jockey literally coming close to walking on air has other cousins around the same age in this genre of Blackshaw's output. He painted another very large work in black and white, in acrylic, which is even more threatening and menacing than the painting here in hand.

Grand National (Foinavon's Year) from 1977 is an another example where there is total chaos, calamity and disaster. In The Fall we sense too that foreboding, that imminent calamity, not to speak of the threat to life and limb as the jockey appears destined to crash to the ground head first. One senses the same fate awaits the horse inevitably spearing ground-wards. Yet Blackshaw could have painted a straight forward horse taking a bank or jump but he needed the challenge. Using the canvas, oil and brush in a bold and radical manner, the painting seethes with energy and drama to create a highly charged image. 

The Irish intellectual Dr Maurice Hayes once remarked:

'In any sport there has to be risk. It is not sport without risk.' Horse racing is no exception. Hayes hit the nail on the head and the number of young jockeys ending up in wheel chairs bear witness to the playing out of this risk. The risk was what attracted Blackshaw in art and in life.

This phase of Blackshaw's output in the seventies reflects extraordinary turmoil in his private life. His marriage to Australian artist Anna Ritchie fell apart around the start of the decade but despite this and ongoing bouts of drinking, Blackshaw ruthlessly captured the very essence of his subject regardless of the circumstances.

Blackshaw continued to live in the heart of the country in County Down and Antrim where all his raw material was outside his door. He was always surrounded by dogs and doggie men, horses and horsey men. He was in love with nature and nature loved him. He always felt at home running his hand across 'an aul horse' of which he spoke so often.

We are grateful to Eamonn Mallie for kindly preparing this catalogue entry.