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The images that mean the most to us hold memories in place, keeping them vivid and alive.

 

New Bond Street, Mayfair, London England.

 

THE GIRL

The year was 1975.

It was a little before lunch when the young couple entered the gallery. The young man strode in with confidence, but his partner seemed to hesitate, stopping a few feet from the door. As she took in the walls, crowded with paintings and prints of ships, people, hunting dogs and landscapes, he quickly engaged a smartly-dressed clerk with a handshake, explaining that they were from Canada and he was a longtime customer of the gallery.

The gallery was in Mayfair, on New Bond Street, a street of decidedly upscale shops where price tags were considered vulgar — as was asking the price. It was the kind of place where the rich and famous shopped.

The young couple hardly fell into that category, the second of the two clerks surmised. He was an older gentleman, with a sculpted face framed by greying hair and kind, hazel eyes. It was rare to see young people in the gallery these days. They were more inclined to be on Carnaby Street. But the young woman, who was still standing near the door, was charming in her reticence. It seemed that the gallery more fascinated than overpowered her.

He approached her quietly and asked if he could “…be of any assistance.”.

“I’m interested in thoroughbreds…in horse racing,” she said. She smiled at him and he noticed the deep blue of her eyes.

“I’m interested in thoroughbreds…in horse racing.”

Beckoning with his hand, he ushered her over to a section nestled amongst a long row of prints.

“These,” he said, “are the smaller prints. The larger ones would be in this drawer,” he added, indicating a dark mahogany drawer with spotless brass handles. “I would be pleased to show you these when madam is ready.”

The thoroughbred BELLARIO. Steel point etching/print.

She thanked him in a muted tone, thinking the “madam” rather stuffy, and began to sort through the bank of images.

He was pleased to see that she understood how to handle old prints. He moved off, as he normally did with clients who preferred to peruse on their own. She was one of those, and so fell neatly into the sensibility of New Bond Street, where there was never any question of pressuring a client. Those who came to New Bond Street only called upon clerks when they were good and ready.

The young couple were on their honeymoon and so far it had been filled with explorations of antiquarian London — bookstores and galleries like this one. This was a London she barely knew and she was dumbfounded by the antiquities on offer, from leather-bound books with marbled frontespieces to prints dating back to the days when Canada was still a colony.

The small prints were either hand-coloured or steel points in black and white. Most had been extracted from books of the period, hence their size, although some had actually been produced as prints. The style was that common before George Stubbs, who had revolutionized the representation of horses forever. She studied some with more interest than others, plucking them out and holding them in front of her as though she were reading them. Noteworthy subjects, although their tiny heads, bulging eyes and disproportionate bodies weren’t particularly compelling. She let out the softest of sighs.

CHILDERS, “the fleetest horse there ever was” in a print from 1856.

 

George Stubbs’ “Horse in the Shade of a Wood” produced in 1780 (just 24 years after the print pictured above) epitomizes the degree to which Stubbs revolutionized the art of the horse.

The grey-haired clerk reappeared at her elbow. “Would madam care to look at some of the larger prints, I wonder? There aren’t as many of them, but you may possibly find something of interest.”

“Yes, please,” came the whisper of a reply. In the background she could hear the voices of her husband and the other clerk. They seemed so comfortable with one another. But, then again, when it came to antique prints and books,her husband had an expertise that she was suddenly very conscious she lacked.

She watched as the clerk neatly slid open the drawer and then, between open palms, lifted a sheaf of prints and moved with them over to a large counter, where he laid them down with a care that was almost tender. She joined him, watching as he turned them like pages of a giant book, lifting the tissue-thin paper that protected each one to reveal the print.

“Now this one is a lithograph. Hand-painted,” he continued, as they looked together at a scene depicting a race at Newmarket.

She was enjoying his explanations of the different prints and how they were made, but she couldn’t really say that any had caught her eye.

He turned another print over and as he lifted the tissue, he heard her catch her breath in the way people do when pleasantly surprised or caught completely off guard.

She couldn’t take her eyes off it. Then she said, “Oh, my. Oh. This is so lovely.”

“It is actually an aquatint from a series called ‘Moore’s Celebrated Winners.’ Aquatints are somewhat rare. Possibly because some find them too….too indistinct. Colour not as vibrant,” and he scrunched his lips to suggest his doubt that such a criticism was merited. “Aquatints are intaglios, basically. An arduous process in the nineteenth century.”

The young woman barely heard him.

She had been spirited away by the image of a grey thoroughbred caught in the comfort of his box stall. His name — “Chanticleer” — was inscribed beneath in a flourish of script close to the calligraphic, followed by line upon line of his achievements. He didn’t look particularly pleased at finding himself immortalised with such elegance. The quality of light that illuminated horse and stable bathed the scene in a warm glow that made her feel as though she had entered the image.

CHANTICLEER, from the series “Moore’s  Celebrated Winners.” Aquatint by J.W. Hillyard,engraved by C. Hunt and published December 6, 1848 by J. Moore, London, England.

 

Neither he nor she moved or spoke for several minutes.

Finally she asked, “And what would the price be, please?”

He hesitated. “Ninety pounds sterling, madam, I believe.”

She swallowed, although her eyes never left the print. They were both first year teachers, making slightly more than four thousand dollars a year between them. They had saved the whole year for this trip and were only at the very start of a three-week stay that would include Scotland, Wales and Dublin, where she had tickets to the Dublin Horse Show. Each had their own spending budget — and ninety BPS would take a tidy bite out of hers.

“Perhaps madam would like some time to consider it further?”

She nodded dumbly, feeling suddenly terribly small within herself. He lifted up Chanticleer and moved briskly to the back of the gallery, where stood an easel draped in black velvet. And against the dark gloss of the fabric, he placed the print.

The atmosphere in the gallery shifted. Although subtle, it was enough for her husband and the other clerk to raise their heads and look. Standing a few feet away, the girl and the grey thoroughbred seemed connected as though by an electric current. Even the air around them seemed to crackle.

“Your wife is deciding on whether or not to acquire it, sir,” the grey-haired clerk offerred helpfully.

“Can you afford it?” the young man asked.

But he got no answer.

 

THE GREY

Chanticleer was, in fact, a thoroughbred of renown in nineteenth century Great Britain. Born in 1843, he was the son of Birdcatcher (sometimes reffered to as “Irish Birdcatcher) out of Whim, by Drone, and was a direct descendant of the great Eclipse through a son, Pot8os.

 

ECLIPSE as depicted by Francis Sartorius.

POT8OS, Eclipse’s son, occurs in CHANTICLEER’s 5th generation on both the top and the bottom.

BIRDCATCHER, the sire of CHANTICLEER, was a very able stayer and a useful stallion who was Champion Sire in 1852 and again in 1856.

Bred in Ireland by Christopher St. George, the grey colt was subsequently purchased by Mr. James Merry in 1847, after he had already won three Queen’s Plates at the Curragh (IRE). Merry was a Scot whose profession was ironcasting and he also sat in the British House of Commons from 1859-1874. He was an outstanding breeder of thoroughbreds and throughout his lifetime owned two famous Epsom Derby winners in Thormanby(ch. c.1857) and Doncaster (ch. c. 1870).

MR. JAMES MERRY, as portrayed in a magazine of the day. CHANTICLEER would be the first of several very good thoroughbreds who established him as a member of the British racing elite.

But it was Chanticleer who first gave him a reputation as a fine horseman, for Merry “…was little known on the turf until he startled the world with the ‘gallant grey’ when he achieved a series of brilliant triumphs in 1948, including the Goodwood Stakes and the Doncaster Cup.” (B.M. Fitzpatrick in The Irish Sport and Sportsmen)

THORMANBY won the Epsom Derby in 1860, the Gimcrack and Criterion Stakes as a 2 year-old and the Ascot Gold Cup in 1861.

 

DONCASTER, who was originally called ALL HEART AND NO PEEL, won the Epsom Derby for Merry in 1873, the Goodwood Cup in 1874 and the Ascot Gold Cup in 1875.

After his purchase by Merry, the 4 year-old Chanticleer was shipped to stables in Scotland to be trained by William l’Anson. The colt’s 5 year-old campaign was the best of his career, one that saw him winning the aforementioned Goodwood Stakes and the Doncaster Cup, as well as the Northumberland Plate, together with a number of less-distinguished races. In Taunton’s “Celebrated Race Horses of the Past and Present” (vol.4) descriptions like “won the Welter Cup … at a canter,” and “…won the Castle Irwell Stakes …easily” indicate that Chanticleer’s 5 year-old campaign was noteworthy.

This is the familar image of CHANTICLEER that appears in most books and online. Paintings of him are very rare, despite the fact that he was well-known to the racing community in the 19th century.

By the time he retired in 1855, the grey had started 32 times and won 19, worth a combined £4,485, and that was a very respectable sum at the time. However, once Mr. Merry’s betting history was included, Chanticleer actually made in excess of £50, 000 for his owner.

But what was this hardy grey colt really like? Taunton describes Chanticleer as almost 16h with a ” coarse, sour head”, powerful shoulders and a girth of about 67 3/4 inches. Taunton adds, ” He was a very free goer, a capital stayer, possessed fine speed and unbounded courage.”

Arguably as noteworthy as his abilities on the turf was Chanticleer’s foul temper:

“…he was a horse of strong constitution, but very bad temper, in fact a perfectly mad horse, when l’Anson first got hold of him…at all times very savage; and so furious was he, on one occassion, that they were obliged to get the stable lad out of his box through the window.” (The “Druid,” quoted in Taunton, “Portraits of Celebrated Racehorses Past and Present,” vol.4)

At stud, the daughters of Chanticleer made a lasting impact on thoroughbred bloodlines worldwide. Through one daughter, Singstress (1860), came the stallion Macaroon(1871), while through another, Souvenir, came Strathconan (1884) the damsire of Le Sancy (1884). It was also through Strathconan that Chanticleer’s grey coat was passed on to The Tetrarch, a name that appears even today in the bloodlines of some of the world’s most accomplished thoroughbreds.

THE TETRARCH, whose short life did nothing to impede his impact on the breed, inherited his grey coat from a daughter of CHANTICLEER.

Another daughter, Queen of the Gypies (1860), is the ancestress of Theatrical, winner of the Breeders Cup Turf. Remaining daughters produced or were granddams to winners of the Prix Morny, Doncaster Cup, the Grand Criterium, the Derby Italiano, the Epsom Oaks, One Thousand Guineas, Two Thousand Guineas, St. Leger, the Ascot Gold Vase, Ascot Stakes, Chester Cup and the Great Yorkshire Stakes.

But arguably the most influential of all was Sunbeam, herself a champion and winner of the St. Leger, who went on to become the sixth dam of Phalaris (1913), among whose many important offspring was Pharos, the sire of Frederico Tesio’s brilliant Nearco. From Nearco descends Nasrullah, Royal Charger and Nearctic, sires who shaped the 20th century thoroughbred and left an enduring mark on the history of the sport worldwide.

NEARCO by the late Richard Stone Reeves

 

 

THE GIRL AND THE GREY

 

 

Another work by HILLYARD, the artist who did the CHANTICLEER in our narrative. HILLYARD specialised in sporting subjects, usually thoroughbred racing. This is an oil painting by the artist, featuring a pair of saddle horses. As in the CHANTICLEER above, the use of light is notable in this painting.

 

She seemed to stand there for an eternity, but the clerks at the gallery didn’t mind, having sensed that this was a large transaction for her.

In her mind, thought and feeling were engaged in a duel. Was she being too emotional? The cost was more than a day’s pay. But didn’t he belong to her — look at the connection they had ! Opportunities like this are meant to be seized.

Her young husband, having made his selection of military prints, was becoming impatient. He walked over to her, “You need to make up your mind.”

“I know,” she replied. But her voice was dreamy. Not the voice of someone about to make a decision.

After a few minutes more, she drew closer to the print. Then she turned, spinning around as though she were dancing a reel, and met the gaze of the grey-haired clerk, “Yes,” she said. “I must have it.”

“Congratulations, madam,” he responded, moving to take Chanticleer from his perch. “You have made a most excellent choice.”

Carrying the print to the back counter, he placed it with her husband’s purchases and, after each had paid, arrangements were made to ship the prints to Canada. When this was done, there were handshakes all around and the grey-haired clerk escorted them to the door.

As they entered the flow of pedestrians on New Bond Street, he heard her say, “I don’t care if I can’t afford anything else on this trip. I just felt that he was meant to be mine.”

“Okay…” her young husband parried, “but I sure hope you don’t see something else you think you must have.”

“Not ‘think’ … ‘feel,’ ” came the reply. “It’s about the way that grey made me feel.

 

Footnote

The series, Moore’s Celebrated Winners, were a series of aquatints produced in the 19th c. by John Moore in London, England. Various artists and print makers were called upon to do each of the “celebrated” subjects. Prints from this series are very rare and seldom come up at public auction anymore.

The aquatint is an intaglio print. In intaglio printmaking, the artist makes marks on a plate (in the case of aquatint, a copper or zinc plate) that are capable of holding ink. The inked plate is passed through a printing press together with a sheet of paper, resulting in a transfer of the ink to the paper. This can be repeated a number of times, depending on the particular technique.

Like etching, aquatint uses the application of a mordant, or dye fixative, to etch into the metal plate. Where the engraving technique uses a needle to make lines that print in black (or whatever colour ink is used), aquatint uses powdered rosin, a resin obtained from pine trees or conifers to create a tonal effect. The rosin is acid resistant and typically adhered to the plate by controlled heating. The tonal variation is controlled by the level of mordant exposure over large areas, and thus the image is shaped by large sections at a time.

An advertisement for MOORE’S CELEBRATED WINNERS that appeared in a 19th century London sports magazine.

 

NANCY (born 1848, by Pompey X Hawise). Winner of the Chester and Goodwood Cups, among others. One in the series MOORE’S CELEBRATED WINNERS. Aquatint, 19th c., London, UK

WEST AUSTRALIAN (born 1850, Melbourne X Mowerina by Touchstone). Great Britain’s first Triple Crown winner. Moore’s Celebrated Winners. Aquatint, 19th c., London, UK

THE FLYING DUTCHMAN (born 1846, by Bay Middleton X Barbelle). Winner of the 1849 Epsom Derby, St. Leger and Ascot Gold Cup, among others. Moore’s Celebrated Winners. Aquatint, 19th c.,London, UK

RABY(born 1846, by The Doctor X Modesty). Winner of the Cambridgeshire Cup. Moore’s Celebrated Winners. Aquatint, 19th c., London, UK

 

Bibliography

The British Museum online. Print of Newminster and descriptive details.

Taunton, Thomas Henry. Portraits of celebrated racehorses of the past and present centuries: in strictly chronological order, commencing in 1702 and ending in 1870, together with their respective pedigrees and performance recorded in full. Volume IV. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, 1883

B.M. Fitzpatrick. Irish Sport and Sportsmen. Waxkeep Publishing, 2015

Thoroughbred Heritage. http://www.tbheritage.com

The New Sporting Magazine. London: Rogerson & Tuxford, December 1858

 

 

 

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