Lot 1
  • 1

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, R.A.

30,000 - 50,000 GBP
42,500 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, R.A.
  • Lassie Herding Sheep
  • oil on canvas laid on panel


Bought from the British Institution in 1832 by William Wells of Redleaf, Penshurst, Kent;
Sir John Fowler of Thornwood Lodge, Campden Hill, London and Braemore, Ullapool, (probably bought in 1857 following Wells' death), until his death in 1898;
His executors' sale, Christie's, 6 May 1899, lot 59, bought 'Agnew';
Thomas Agnew & Sons, London;
Christie's, London, 29 April 1911, bought 'Gooden';
Gooden & Fox, London;
James Gresham of Gallery House, Woodheys Park, Ashton-upon-Mersey, Cheshire;
His sale, Christie's, London, 12 July 1917, lot 65, bought 'Sampson';
Private collection


London, British Institution, 1832, no.186;
Manchester, Art Treasures, 1557, no.342;
London, Royal Academy, 1874, no.427


The London Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, 1832, p.160;
The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, 1832, Vol.36, p.110;
James Dafforne, Pictures by Sir Edwin Landseer, Royal Academician, with Descriptions and a Biographical Sketch of the Painter, 1873, p.23;
F.G. Stephens, Memoirs of Sir Edwin Landseer, 1874, pp.81-82

Catalogue Note

'In a far-away nook among the heathery hills of Scotland, a "lassie" stands leaning against the broken acclivity, in the act of knitting. There is extreme ease in the position of the figure, and the limbs are, as usual with this artist, admirably rounded. Near her are scattered about numerous sheep, and a black-face ram, tethered by the horns, is struggling to release himself. Her dog, a meagre lank-boned animal, crouches by her side, with his ears pricked up, alive to every sound and movement' (James Dafforne, Pictures by Sir Edwin Landseer, Royal Academician, with Descriptions and a Biographical Sketch of the Painter, 1873, p.23)

The present work is an important rediscovery, only known in recent history from the mezzotint engraved by John Burnet. The picture has a distinguished provenance, having been in the famous collections of William Wells and Sir John Fowler but fell out of sight for many years. Lassie Herding Sheep is a delightful example of Landseer's depiction of the romantic Scottish Highlands which were made so popular in the early nineteenth century by Walter Scott and Robert Burns and by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's love of the Scottish wilderness, its people and its animals.

The critic for the New Monthly Magazine in 1832 congratulated Landseer on the depiction of the sheep and dog; 'the animals absolutely perfect as to delicacy of painting, variety and accuracy in the different hues of the wool, etc. and characteristic expression.' (The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, 1832, Vol. 36, p.110) However the same writer felt that the shepherdess was too beautiful: 'The tone of the girl's flesh too equably suffused and brick-dust-like, and her general air and manner not sufficiently rustic. She looks like a patrician in masquerade.' Although there is no evidence that the comment is more than a passing one, the shepherdess bears some resemblance to one of Landseer's portraits of the beautiful Lady Fitzharris painted two years later (private collection) in which she is sewing rather than knitting and dressed in elegant costume at Chillingham Castle in Northumberland.

The picture was bought from the British Institution exhibition by the gallery's Director William Walls who owned many fine paintings by Landseer, including a spectacular scene of a stag fight in the Highlands None but the Brave Deserve the Fair of 1838 (Sold, Sotheby's Parke Bernet, New York, 5 December 1975, lot 51), The Sanctuary (Royal collection), bought from Wells by Queen Victoria as a birthday present for Prince Albert in 1842 and Low Life and High Life of 1829 (Tate).

Lassie Herding Sheep was lent to the Art Treasures exhibition held in the Botanical Gardens at Manchester in 1857 by Wells and probably sold later that year when Wells died and it was bought by the engineer Sir John Fowler who was later responsible for the first underground railway - the Metropolitan Line and the Forth Railway Bridge. Fowler owned another famous art collection with fine examples by Landseer. He was a great lover of the Scottish Highlands and in 1857 he bought the 57,000 acre estate Braemore in Ross-Shire.

After Fowler's death in 1898 Lassie Herding Sheep passed through the hands of several art dealers before being bought by another remarkable engineer James Gresham (1836-1914), founder of Gresham and Graven, manufacturers of brake equipment for railway vehicles. When he was attending a grammar school in Newark, Gresham broke his leg and was taken to hospital in Lincoln by carriage, which overturned and further damaged his leg so badly that it was amputated above the knee. He developed his own artificial leg and with a keen mind for business he patented his design and used the money that was generated to pay for drawing lessons at the South Kensington School of Art where he met and befriended the artist William Powell Frith. It soon became clear that Gresham lacked the inspirational spark and originality to make him a great painter and when in 1856 he saw an advert for the position of  a Sketching Clerk to assist the Secretary of the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition, he was encouraged to apply. It was here that Gresham would have seen Lassie Herding Sheep and also another picture in his collection, John Frederick Lewis’ The Halt in the Desert (sold in these rooms, 24 April 2012, lot 7), although he did not have the opportunity to purchase either picture for many years. Gresham was a connoisseur of modern art and among the many pictures in his collection were The Cave of the Storm Nymphs by Edward Poynter (sold in these rooms, 2 November 1994, lot 215), The Soldier of Marathon by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (Sotheby’s, New York, 20 April 2005, lot 71, formerly owned by the fashion designer Gianni Versace), The Lantern Maker’s Courtship by William Holman Hunt (Manchester City Art Gallery) and La Pia by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas).

We are grateful to Richard Ormond for his assistance with the cataloguing of this picture.