PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION
This fine painting is the earliest known portrait of a prize-winning dog in British art and as such stands at the very beginning of the great tradition of sporting art that is one of this country’s greatest contributions to western visual culture tradition – a that would find its fullest expression in the successive work of artists such as John Wootton, George Stubbs, John Ferneley, Sir Edwin Landseer and Alfred Munnings over a century later, and which remains a central theme in British art even today, as can be seen in the work of artists such as Lucian Freud. Rarely in the seventeenth century, however, do depictions of dogs have anything more than a subsidiary or complementary role in the composition. This painting is one of only a very small number of exceptions, including two large studies by Leonard Knyff: one of a pair of beagles, dated 1699, and the other of a greyhound taking a hare, in the Halifax Collection; and a well-known picture of Southern Mouthed Hounds by Francis Barlow (formerly at Clandon Park and presumably destroyed by the recent fire). Of all these, the present painting is the earliest securely dated work and the only one that is a portrait of a single, champion hound.
Little is known about the somewhat obscure biography of Otto Hoynck and documented paintings by him are extremely rare. Of Dutch origin, he is recorded as a pupil of the portrait painter Arnold van Ravesteyn (1605–90), who also trained Willem Wissing (1656–87), and he later worked in the studio of his brother-in-law, Pieter Harmensz. Verelst (1618–78). In 1657 he was involved in a fight that broke out in Verelst’s studio, in which another student, Anthony de Haen, was seriously injured. In 1661 he became a master in the Confrérie Pictura in The Hague where, according to Terwesten, he had been born.1 However, his admission fee was 18 guilders, indicating that he was not a native of that city. A painter who specialised in a number of disciplines, including religious subjects, portraits and still lifes, his real speciality lay in animal painting – a tradition that had a rich history in the Low Countries, dating back to the work of Snyders, Rubens, Stradanus and Bol. Like many Dutch artists of his generation, Hoynck came to England in search of patronage amongst the wealthy British aristocracy and found employment as 'painter to the Duke of Albemarle.' Edwin Buijsen states that he left Holland in 1676. On the evidence of this picture, however, which is dated 1673, he must have been in England earlier than that.
Hoynck’s patron in England was Christopher Monck, 2nd Duke of Albemarle (1653–88), son of the famous General George Monck (1608–70), who had been elevated to the Dukedom in 1660 for his part in returning King Charles II to the throne of Great Britain. It seems likely that the greyhound depicted here belonged to Albemarle himself, given the fact that the dog won his collar, and that the painting was most likely commissioned to celebrate a particular victory by his champion hound. The 2nd Duke was a noted supporter of sporting contests. On 6 January 1681 he arranged a fight between his butler and his butcher, the first recorded boxing match in England – the butcher won.
Coursing game with greyhounds, or other forms of sight hound, is the oldest form of hunting recorded in the western world – practiced at all levels of society from the landed nobility to the rural commoner alike, until Carolingian forest law appropriated hunting grounds exclusively for the elite. The earliest reference of such a practice was recorded by the Greek historian and philosopher Arrian of Nicomedia (c.86/9 –c.146/60 AD), who wrote a long treatise on the art of hunting game with sight hounds, however the emergence of a recognisably competitive form of the sport in Europe appears to date to the early modern period. In 1899 Harding Cox wrote that 'the date when matches were first made between dogs is not easily to be traced, but it was certainly before the time of Elizabeth, during whose reign, by special command of the Queen, certain ‘laws of the Leash or Coursing’ were drawn up and ‘allowed and subscribed by Thomas, Duke of Norfolk.’'2
The earliest coursing appears to have been private, with gentlemen matching their dogs against one another on an informal basis. However, public matches first appear during the reign of Charles I and by the middle of the seventeenth century there is frequent mention of public meetings being held in England. Much like the parallel development of horse racing in this country, which until the formal establishment of the Jockey Club in 1750 was organised on a more ad hoc basis of royal and aristocratic patronage, these contests would have been sponsored by individual patrons, who would present a prize in their name for the winning dog. The presentation of a collar or ribbon to champion hounds, much like the presentation of belts in prize fighting, is a long established one, reflected in the fact that the Waterloo Cup, the most famous coursing event in the world which was run between 1836 and 2005, was colloquially known as ‘The Blue Ribbon of the Leash’.
The tradition of dog portraiture finds its origins in the art of venery, particularly the hunting scenes of Frans Snyders and Johannes Stradanus’s designs for his classic 1596 publication Venationes – which themselves were based on a series of hunting scenes he had produced for tapestries to decorate the Medici Villa of Poggio a Caiano. The tradition did not really become established until the early eighteenth century, however, when King Louis XIV of France commissioned portraits of his favourite hounds from Jean-Baptiste Oudry in the 1720s. Nowhere, however, did this tradition become more established than in England, where the emphasis on hunting was increasingly being placed upon the performance of individual hounds, leading to intense rivalry among the landed elite. This is best reflected in the paintings of John Wootton and Peter Tillemans, the former of whom in particular started producing individual portraits of dogs in the first half of the eighteenth century. Fine examples of Wootton's work in this manner include the mock-heroic portrait of Horace Walpole’s favourite dog Patapan, painted in 1743; the Duke of Hamilton’s Jewell (New York, Sotheby’s, 26 January 2017, lot 274), from circa 1720; and a portrait of a Grey Spotted Hound – probably an early version of the breed now known as an English Pointer (fig. 1), painted circa 1738.3 However, it was Stubbs, a generation later, who really developed the genre, working, as he was, at a time when dogs were becoming increasingly valued not only as sporting trophies, but as objects of interest in themselves, and gaining a new status as prized possessions within English households which they had not formerly enjoyed (see fig. 2). Animal portraiture, particularly that of dogs, probably reached its pinnacle in the early nineteenth century, however, in the work of Sir Edwin Landseer, whose paintings of both his own greyhounds and those of his great royal patrons, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, are among the most tender and evocative depictions of man’s best friend ever created.4 Even today though, dogs feature strongly in contemporary British art, both in their own right and as companions to their owners (see fig. 3). The British love affair with our dogs, it would appear, is never ending.
1 E. Buijsen, Haagse Schilders in de Gouden Eeuw, The Hague 1998, p. 318.
2 H. Cox and G. Lascelles, Coursing and Falconry, London and Bombay 1899, p. 4.
3 Inv. no. B1981.25.701, Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven.
4 See for example Landseer’s portrait of Eos, Prince Albert’s favourite greyhound, painted in 1841 (inv. no. RCIN 403219, The Royal Collection).
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