One of the more fascinating roles exhibitions at the Kennel Club Art Gallery play is introducing to a wider audience important pieces of dog art that otherwise are hidden from the public gaze in private collections.
The current exhibition on the English and Gordon Setters is no exception. On public view for the first time is Maud Earl’s magnificent picture of the English Setters, Ightfield Gaby and Ightfield Duke. Painted in 1903 for their owner, Capt H H Heywood-Lonsdale, the picture has remained within the family ever since. Gaby’s many wins included first and best Setter in the all-aged stakes at the International Kennel Club Trials, while Duke’s successes included winning outright the Patiala Challenge Cup.
The Ightfield kennel was started by Capt Heywood-Lonsdale’s father, A P Heywood-Lonsdale and also in the exhibition is the kennel’s stud book from 1865 to 1927 when distemper decimated the kennel.
Two other important exhibits are the magnificent English Setter Pure Type Challenge Brace Stakes Trophy sculpted by R H Moore and made by the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Company in 1896, and John Emms large oil of nine of Sir Humphrey de Trafford’s English Setters, among whom are Ch Mallwyd Bess, winner of thirteen CCs and Ch Barton Tory, twice BOB at Crufts and later sold to S E Shirley.
Sporting art was at its peak in the late 19th/early 20th century and pictures of Setters working on moors or flushing game put food on the table for many an artist. Colin Greame and Robert Cleminson were two great exponents and works by both feature in the exhibition. Also featured are more recent portraits of dogs that were successful in the field or on the bench.
Among a good selection of ceramics is an early Staffordshire flatback group of a sportsman with his dog and game; models by Royal Doulton; a beautiful Berlin cabinet plate that had once been in Count Alarico Palmieri’s collection; an impressive Villeroy and Boch charger; an unusual Lladro head by Juan Huerta; a fine selection of decorative items by Crown Devon and a rare model from the studio of the late Eve Niven of Ch Shiplake Dean of Crombie. All the above are English Setters.
As someone viewing at the opening remarked; “You have to search to find a Gordon Setter,” and yes, sadly the breed is the poor relation. Remembering back to my dealing days, English Setter items almost ‘grew on trees’ and the Gordon Setter was almost as rare as ‘hens’ teeth’, so perhaps it was inevitable. If multi breed exhibitions are to work they have to be a ‘little of everything’, like the vulnerable breeds, or two or more breeds where quality and quantity come in equal amounts.
There is one Gordon Setter exhibit I think deserves special admiration for what it represents, and because it is a photograph could quickly be overlooked. Dual Ch Amscott Irresista Belle was bred by Jean Collins, trained by Terry Harris and handled by Jean in the field and in the ring, she became the first and to date only Gordon Setter in the UK to become a Dual Champion. Such a unique achievement was featured in many magazines and rightly so.
The English Setter and Gordon Setter in Art runs at the Kennel Club Art Gallery until June 24th.