Array of equestrian and racing works among Old Masters auction

Detail of Robert Johnson on Mr Riddell's Dr Syntax. Dr Syntax won 35 races in all, including 20 gold cups.
Detail of Robert Johnson on Mr Riddell’s Dr Syntax. Dr Syntax won 35 races in all, including 20 gold cups. © Dreweatts

A painting of a racehorse who won the same feature race seven times in the early 19th century is among the lots being offered at the Dreweatts Old Master Paintings auction in Britain next week.

Dr Syntax won the Preston Gold Cup from 1815 to 1821, the only example known of a horse winning the same race for more than six seasons. Dr Syntax also won 13 other Gold Cups, including the Lancaster Cup five times, and 35 races in all.

The painting by John Frederick Herring (1795-1865) titled Robert Johnson on Mr Riddell’s Dr Syntax is being offered at the Dreweatts sale on June 14. The sale comprises more than 200 lots, with works dating from the 16th to the 19th century, featuring Old Master paintings, drawings and prints, 18th-century portraiture and landscapes to works by major Victorian artists.

A larger version of the painting, dated 1825, sold at Christie’s in London in May 2009 for £45,000.

Dr Syntax, a brown colt foaled in 1811 by Paynator out of a mare by Beningborough, was bred by Humphrey Osbaldeston of Hunmanby, Yorkshire, and sold as a yearling to Mr Knapton of Huntington, near York, and subsequently to Ralph Riddell of Felton Park, Northumberland.

Dr Syntax began racing in 1814 in the colours of Ralph Riddell and ran for 10 seasons until 1823. His many victories included a sequence of seven in the Preston Gold Cup from 1815 to 1821.

The Druid wrote of Dr Syntax: “The Doctor, as they so fondly termed him in the North, was in every way a very remarkable horse to look at, being barely 15 hands high, very broad at the base of the nose, with an eye as full and bright as a hawk’s, a high drooping rump and short quarters. He was very short in his coat which was mouse-coloured. A slight canter would bring out his veins so strongly that he looked as if covered by network. He had splendid legs and a strong muscular head; but could never bear either whip or spur, but Bob Johnson (his jockey) could always get every ounce out of him by merely stroking and talking to him.”

Robert Johnson on Mr Riddell’s Dr Syntax is lot 184 in the sale, which also features several other equestrian and racing works.

Gilbert Holiday's work on the Epsom Derby is lot 198.
Gilbert Holiday’s work on the Epsom Derby is lot 198. © Dreweatts

Scenes from racing’s famous Epsom Derby are portrayed in lot 198, a chalk, pencil and gouache piece by British artist Gilbert Holiday (1879-1937), in a work titled At the Post. It is signed with the artist’s initials and indistinctly inscribed “And bang goes £10,000 … fighting it out …“.

A watercolour hunting work by Lionel Edwards (1878-1966) titled On The Scent is also on offer, as is an oil painting by James Walsham Baldock (1822-1898) of racewinner Comus, painted in 1868.

Holiday also has another work in the sale, a chalk and watercolour work titled The Royal Horse Artillery, which is lot 196.

Educated at Winchester and then at the Royal Academy Schools, Holiday shared a studio with Lionel Edwards on whom he had a considerable influence.

Gilbert Holiday's The Royal Horse Artillery, is lot 196 in the Dreweatts auction on June 14. 
Gilbert Holiday’s The Royal Horse Artillery is lot 196 in the Dreweatts auction on June 14. © Dreweatts

Holiday served as a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery on the Western Front during World War I, painting many pictures for the army messes, often including figures of horses in service, and had a talent for capturing the form, speed and movement of horses. Edwards said of his friend that “no one can, or ever could, paint a horse in action better than Gilbert could”.

A version of General Juan Prim (1814-1870) on Horseback, by a follower of Henri Alexandre Georges Régnault, is lot 182. The work depicts the arrival of General Juan Prim in Madrid at the head of the insurgents of the Spanish Revolution. “The unsigned and presumably primary version painted in 1868 currently resides in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago,” Dreweatts said.

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