Painting of lucky circus horse could fetch £100K

In the Ring, by Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) is being auctioned at Christies in London.
In the Ring, by Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) is being auctioned at Christie’s in London. © Christies

A painting by a British artist of a circus horse who was “saved from the lions” could fetch up to £100,000 at auction later this month.

In the Ring, by Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) depicts the Hungarian trainer Captain Emmerich Anker, who was only 4’6″ tall, at Carmo’s Circus with his Hungarian bred horses Pinto and Apollo. Apollo, who is rearing in the picture, was originally purchased by the circus to feed the lions, but Captain Anker realised his potential as a performing horse and saved him.

It is being sold by auction house Christie’s in London, and is one of 250 lots from a home in Switzerland designed by François-Joseph Graf. It has a pre-auction estimate of between £70,000 and £100,000.

The work was painted shortly after the great uninsured fire at Carmo’s Circus in March 1930, which destroyed the great tent, when the artist joined the touring circus in Hanley. In her autobiography, Knight recalls the fire and how Mrs Anker valiantly saved their wagon, of which they were so proud, by swabbing out pieces of lighted canvas that kept falling. At the time Carmo’s Circus was in great financial difficulties, with salaries and wages in arrears and doom and despondency hanging over most of the circus performers. By contrast, Knight has created an image of joyful entertainment that revels in the colour and spectacle of the circus, a subject that had long fascinated her.

A painter in the figurative, realist tradition, Knight worked in oils, watercolours, etching, engraving and drypoint. Knight was among the most successful and popular painters in Britain.

In the Ring was painted from a study for a similar larger painting, Under the Big Top, that portrays the clowns Joe Craston and Marba standing by the Ring entrance watching the show.

It is part of the sale at Christie’s in London on January 26, “Au Bord Du Lac: An interior by François-Joseph Graf“, with work from the unique home, on the shores of Lake Geneva, that was one of Graf’s earliest projects after launching his agency in 1986. The collection features French decorative arts, furniture and paintings, predominantly from the late 19th century.

» Lot 76, In the Ring fetched £75,000.

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