Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, R.A.

A spaniel retrieving a woodcock

Lot Closed

December 8, 04:08 PM GMT


20,000 - 30,000 GBP

Lot Details


Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, R.A.

London 1802 - 1873

A spaniel retrieving a woodcock

signed and dated lower right: EL / 18..

oil on board

unframed: 49.8 x 64.7 cm.; 19 5/8 x 25 1/2 in.

framed: 56.5 x 71.4 cm.; 22 1/4 x 28 1/8 in.

Purchased by Samuel Unwin Heathcote (1789–1862) from the British Institution exhibition in 1823 (according to Graves) and thence by descent to

Michael Arthur Unwin-Heathcote (1902–1979);

By whom sold ('The Property of Michael A. Unwin Heathcote, Esq. formerly of Shepalbury, Stevenage, Herts.'), London, Puttick & Simpson, 20 May 1925, lot 142, £3918s. to Samuels;

Anonymous sale, Madrid, Ansorena, 2 March 2022, lot 690 (as English School, 19th century);

Where acquired by the present owner.

A. Graves, Catalogue of The Works of The Late Sir Edwin Landseer, R.A., London 1875, p. 8.

London, British Institution, 1823, no. 66;

London, The Royal Academy, The Works of the late Sir Edwin Landseer R.A., January - March 1874, no. 162 (as on canvas).

Painted in 1822 when the artist was twenty years old, this beautiful, recently rediscovered picture is an important early work by Sir Edwin Landseer. From a young age, Landseer was particularly adept at depicting animals; by his mid-teenage years he was executing accomplished écorché drawings of cats and dogs, as well as producing images of animals for his brother Thomas to engrave.1

Landseer had, by the 1820s, turned his forensic eye to painting in earnest. This work, dating from the pre-Scottish phase of his career, displays the artist’s powers of observation that so characterise his entire œuvre. The woodcock, in its death-throes, has presumably been shot by an unseen man who has dispatched his spaniel to retrieve the dying creature. Landseer, a keen enthusiast of field sports himself, intuitively understood such scenes and his rendering displays a sportsman’s concern for the contorted struggle of the wounded bird. With the viewpoint at the creatures’ eye level, bringing the viewer into the drama, the bird lies spot lit by a shaft of sunlight that penetrates the dense surrounding vegetation, through which the dog emerges, prompting one to consider the picture not simply as a sporting work, but one imbued with the pathos of life and death. The artist thus places the subject within a long established canon in Western Art stretching back to Antiquity and finding its apogee in the great animal battles of Peter Paul Rubens.

Despite the distinctly operatic nature of the scene, Landseer has not neglected the minute details that make the whole. Particularly fine is the rendering of the woodcock’s head and feathers. Landseer offsets these remarkable details with broadly painted elements – the buff-coloured ground at the centre is handled with characteristic chalky impasto and the thick undergrowth, despite being painted with some rapidity, still contains many intricate passages, especially in the bramble to the top left.

The present work was first shown by Landseer in 1823 at the British Institution’s Works of British Artists selling exhibition on Pall Mall. This picture is one of four shown by the artist; the other three also depicted animal subjects. It was purchased at the exhibition by Samuel Unwin Heathcote (1789–1862) of Shephall Manor, Hertfordshire. Unwin Heathcote's collection included several paintings by the artist, including a pair of paintings of deer sold in these rooms in 2007.2

1 For discussion of Landseer’s formative works, see R. Ormond, Sir Edwin Landseer, London 1981, pp. 4259. 

2 Sotheby's, London, 29 August 2007, lot 12;