Thursday, January 28, 2016

Frederick St John and George Stubbs

The Favourite Hunter of Henry Viscount Bolingbroke - a copy of this painting hangs in the library at Lydiard House

As Swindon Borough Council agonizes over what to do about Lydiard House, who would have thought that Frederick, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke and 3rd Viscount St John might have been its saviour!

This is 'Bully' who famously divorced Lady Diana Spencer, sold the family pile at Battersea, spent a fortune on Sevres porcelain and bought more than 90 thoroughbred racehorses during a ten year period. "I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast horses. The rest I just squandered," he might have said to the press of the day.*

Along with the horses he bought, raced and sold in the 1760s, Frederick also became the patron of a Lancashire born artist specialising in painting horses.

The first of Frederick's horses to be immortalised in oils was 'Lustre, held by a groom.' Next came 'Tristram Shandy' followed by a bay filly called 'Molly Long Legs.' 

Frederick had a group of his brood mares and their foals painted, most probably in the Lydiard parkland. The title for this atmospheric painting is 'Mares and Foals disturbed by an approaching storm.'

In 1765 Frederick had the celebrated 'Gimcrack' painted following his win on Newmarket Heath. And to complete his gallery of equine portraits Frederick had painted 'Turf,' a bay who earned him around 2000 guineas, a 'Favourite hunter of Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke' and 'Hollyhock.'

In 1943 things were just about as bad as they could get at Lydiard House. With the Palladian mansion house falling down about his ears, Vernon, 6th Viscount Bolingbroke, moved into Brook Cottage, the home of his own great grandfather, one of the gamekeepers once employed on the estate.

Up at the mansion house he had the mother of all clear outs - donating 2 and a half tons of historic documents to the wartime paper salvage scheme. Furniture was burned on the front lawn and in December of that year he dispatched four paintings for auction at Christie's; two fetched £4,410 each, a group of mares and foals made £1,365 and a fourth, the 'favourite horse of Henry Viscount Bolingbroke standing by a river, the family seat and church seen in the background' made £787.

These were just four of eight pictures Frederick had commissioned in the 1760s, painted by George Stubbs, the most famous painter of horses this country has ever produced. The painting of Hollyhock was given to M. Monet in 1766 who obviously thought it needed livening up and had a couple of figures and a flock of sheep added to the background. The painting was later bought by the Prince of Wales in 1810 and now hangs in Windsor Castle, part of the Royal Collection. 

Today the whereabouts of 'Tristram Shandy,' which sold at Christie's for £2.3 million in 2000, is unknown, but 'Molly Long Legs' hangs in Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery.  

And in 2011 one of George Stubbs's works fetched a cool £22.4 million, making it the third most valuable Old Master ever sold. And what was this painting? It was Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath with a trainer, a stable lad and a jockey, one of the paintings Vernon sold in 1943.

Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath with a trainer, a stable lad and a jockey 

Mare and foals disturbed by an approaching storm

Turf with Jockey up at Newmarket

Molly Long Legs
Lustre held by a groom

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