From toffee tins to paintings by some of this country’s leading dog artists, the Irish Setter is the latest breed to have a solo exhibition at the Kennel Club Art Gallery.
The KC is fortunate to own some historically important pictures on the breed and three of them form the centrepiece of the exhibition; Maud Earl’s oil of Ch Shandon II and Ch Geraldine II that she exhibited in her first solo exhibition and Cecil Aldin’s pastels of FT Ch Sulhamstead Valla D’Or and FT Ch Sulhamstead Sheilin D’Or.
Pictures on loan include a very stylised portrait of a dog in a landscape by FT Daws; a fine watercolour by the portrait and figure painter Percy Harland Fisher; an early work by Mick Cawston showing four dogs from Mrs Trott’s Cribbarth kennel and two head studies by John Emms of dogs attributed to having belonged to Purcell Llewellin. One is an early work by Emms and features a bitch named Sybil who carries a lot of white and was painted at a time when this colour was losing ground to the solid red that swept all before it.
Sculptures include a realistically modelled head study of Sh Ch Caspians Intrepid by Sally Reece; three life-size resin bronze sculptures by Rosemary Cook whose sympathetically observed models have established her as one of the country’s leading contemporary animal sculptors, a standing bronze by the German sculptor Fritz Diller who is equally well-known for his work in porcelain, and all three sizes of the Royal Doulton model based on Menaifon Pat O’Moy sculpted by FT Daws.
The display drawers in the gallery often contain some unexpected treasures. A small medal by the French artist and Animalier Richard Fath; a Crufts medal won by Ch Winifred who won the bitch CC at Crufts four years running from 1899 and was the foundation of Mrs Ingle Bepler’s Rheola kennel; the original bronze medallion designed by Edith Cornish in 1909 that is still used as the Irish Setter Association, England’s logo and two hand coloured photographs of Ch Carrig Maid, the bitch CC winner at Crufts in 1903.
One advantage these intimate exhibitions have over the large gallery/museum exhibitions are the collectables, sometimes seemingly trivia, which fanciers have in their collections. It is one such piece that stole the Irish Setter exhibition for me; a 1920s painted spelter group of a lady with her two dogs, dressed for the shooting field and striding out with determination and arrogance. It screamed Art Deco but not only that it made a great social statement about women’s emancipation, challenging men in roles that had traditionally been their prerogative and questioning the rules on dress code between the sexes.
A Celebration of the Irish Setter is hosted by the Irish Setter Association, England in its centenary year and runs until August 1. The KC Art Gallery is open by appointment Monday – Friday, 9.30am – 4.30pm.