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  • John Frederick Herring Sr
    Sep 12, 1795 - Sep 23, 1865
  • Pharaoh's Horses - John Frederick Herring, Sr., renowned for an uncanny level of precision in his paintings, John Frederick Herring was adept at portraying an animal's individuality and emotional expression. Whether painting a thrilling race or a tranquil barnyard scene, Herring was meticulous in his execution, contributing to his status as one of the preeminent painters of animals in his day.
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Pharaoh's Horses
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  • Pharaoh's Horses

  • John Frederick Herring Sr
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  • 1848

    As a pourtrayer [sic] of the thoroughbred horse in high condition he is, and long has been, unrivalled; that beautifully healthy and natural gloss he gives to the skin – the real effect of being well-bred and reared, that union of strength and elegance – the perfect symmetry of the animal which he paints so life-like, so effectively, and yet so unexaggerated.’ (From Sporting Magazine, quoted by Oliver Beckett, J.F. Herring & Sons, 1981, p34-36)

    In addition to his regular employment painting a celebrated and lucrative series of Derby and St. Leger race winners, by the 1840s John Frederick Herring had become Queen Victoria’s favourite animal portraitist. So close to the Royal Family was he that he even managed to buy one of the Queen’s Arabians, so that he could use the horse as a regular model. This beautiful grey was named Imaum, originally given to Queen Victoria by the Imaum of Muscat. This splendid beast was presented to her Royal Clerk of the Stables as a gift and subsequently sold at Tattersall’s, where Herring was the highest bidder. Imaum was the model for numerous pictures by Herring painted at his home, Meopham Park, including Shoeing Imaum of 1856 (sold in these rooms 15 December 2009, lot 66 for £481,000). Imaum’s noble profile was used for all three beautiful steeds in Pharaoh’s Horses, a triple celebration of equine vigour.

    Herring had experimented with similar compositions in the past, showing multiple animals at close range to their best advantage, describing each meticulous detail of coat, flaring nostrils, and veins to perfection. In a description of Scanty Meal painted in 1848, the Art Journal of 1850 acknowledged that ‘A group of three horses’ heads variously engaged has long been a favourite theme with Herring; yet, although we recognize the same animals, their occupations are so diversified as to dispel the idea that he has copied himself’.

    The differing positions of each head make for a successful anatomical study of a horse rearing, ready either for battle, or for the rigors of a long ride. The clear blue sky and crystalline water in the distance evoke the far-away land from which Imaum and all Arabians originally hailed. Certainly, English racing and breeding were to be transformed by their arrival. The title Pharaoh’s Horses alluded to their ancient and noble heritage.

    An earlier version of Pharaoh’s Horses dated 1848 (Sotheby’s, New York, 25 April 2006, lot 137) was engraved by Charles Wentworth Wass and first published 8 February 1849 by James Gilbert of Sheffield. The engraving proved to be very popular and became one of Herring’s best-known pictures, leading to requests for replicas of the painting from collectors. The 1848 version was bought by Philip Schuyler, who descended from one of New York's earliest important families.

    Perhaps Herring’s most widely-recognized image today because of the wide distribution and enormous popularity of the Charles Wass engraving, Pharaoh’s Horses shows Herring’s talent at capturing the strength and beauty that were the prized qualities of Arabian stallions.

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Other paintings by John Frederick Herring Sr:

At the Start
At the Start
Feeding the Arab 2
Feeding the Arab 2
'Three members of the Temperance Society': Three Horses at a Drinking Trough
'Three members of the Temperance Society': Three Horses at a Drinking Trough
A Dark Bay Racehorse with Patrick Connolly Up
A Dark Bay Racehorse with Patrick Connolly Up
John Frederick Herring SrRenowned for an uncanny level of precision in his paintings, John Frederick Herring was adept at portraying an animal's individuality and emotional expression. Whether painting a thrilling race or a tranquil barnyard scene, Herring was meticulous in his execution, contributing to his status as one of the preeminent painters of animals in his day.

Herring was the son of a London merchant of Dutch parentage, who had been born in America. The first 18 years of his life were spent in London, where his greatest interests were drawing and horses. In 1814, he moved to Doncaster, arriving just in time to see the Duke of Hamilton's William win the St. Leger Stakes, the oldest of Britain's Five Classics that is still run today. In Doncaster, Herring first earned his living painting coach insignia and inn signs while also working as a night coach driver. His spare time was spent painting portraits of horses for inn parlors and he became known as the 'artist coachman'. Herring's talent was quickly recognized and he soon found himself painting hunters and racehorses for the gentry. From that point, he enjoyed a meteoric rise to artistic success, with his sons John Frederick Junior, Charles and Benjamin eventually becoming artists and his daughters Ann and Emma both marrying painters.

In 1833, Herring moved to London, where he suffered financial difficulties until being rescued by W. T. Copeland, who commissioned many paintings, including designs used for Copeland Spode bone china. In 1840-41, Herring visited Paris by invitation of the Duc d'Orleans (whom had heard of Herring's skill by one of his admirers, the famed Romanticist Theodore Gericault), for whom he painted several pictures. In 1845, Herring was appointed Animal Painter to HRH the Duchess of Kent, followed by a commission from Queen Victoria, who was to remain a patron for the rest of his life.

Herring spent the last 12 years of his life at Meopham Park near Tunbridge, where he lived as a country squire. He broadened his subject matter to paint agricultural and narrative scenes. A highly successful and prolific artist, Herring ranks with Sir Edwin Landseer as one of the most masterful animal painters of the 19th century. His paintings were very popular and many were transformed into engravings, including his 33 winners of the St Leger Stakes and his 21 winners of the Derby. Herring also won a large number of awards for his paintings.