When the bulls come home

Prize bull in a landscape, by Richard Whitford. This animal won third prize at Smithfield, London, in 1872. ©NTPL/Matthew Hollow

Earlier this year we bought a small herd of bulls at auction.

A prize bull in a landscape, by Richard Whitford. This animal won first prize at the Bath and West of England Show, Hereford, first prize at the West Midland Show, Oswestry, first prize at the Smithfield Club, London and first prize at the Bingley Hall, Birmingham, in 1876. The next year it again won first prize at the Bingley Hall, Birmingham. ©NTPL/Matthew Hollow

But it wasn’t at a livestock auction; it was at one of the paintings sales at Bonhams in London.

A prize bull in a barn, by Richard Whitford, 1875. This animal won second prize at the Smithfield Club, London, in 1874. ©NTPL/Matthew Hollow

The pictures show prize bulls that were bred at the home farm at Powis Castle,  Powys, in the 1870s.

A prize bull in a landscape, by Richard Whitford, 1878. This animal won first prize at Smithfield, London, in both 1877 and 1878. ©NTPL/Matthew Hollow

The painter, Richard Whitford, specialised in such proud records of animal husbandry.

A prize bull by a gate, by Richard Whitford, 1878. This animal won second prize at the Bingley Hall, Birmingham, in 1877. ©NTPL/Matthew Hollow

The frame of each painting records the prizes won by that particular animal – which is just as well, because otherwise there would be little for a layman to distinguish one slablike bull from the next.

A prize bull in a landscape, by Richard Whitford. This animal won first prize at the Bath and West of England Show, Hereford, first prize at the West Midland Show at Oswestry, second prize at the Smithfield Club, London and second prize at the Bingley Hall, Birmingham, in 1876. ©NTPL/Matthew Hollow

The pictures have now been cleaned by conservator Melanie Caldwell and will soon be on display at Powis.

A prize bull in a landscape, by Richard Whitford. This animal won second prize at the Smithfield Club, London, in 1878. ©NTPL/Matthew Hollow

There was quite a lot of competion in the saleroom for this group of eight pictures. They came up as separate lots, and in once case we were outbid. So there is one bull out there on its own somewhere, bellowing disconsolately, separated from the herd.

12 Responses to “When the bulls come home”

  1. Linda Young Says:

    Ah, how an artist has to earn a living! But what can you do to differentiate a bunch of cows? They have uniformly straight spines, massive bodies and delicate legs. They differ in a) straight or curved horns, and b) left or right foot forward. Profound!

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Indeed Linda, although I believe one is also supposed to be able to tell cattle apart by the slight variations in the pattern of the hide, which is unique to each animal. All very appealing to our inner stamp collector :)

    But of course the main value of these pictures to us now is as records of the breeding programme on the Powis home farm, of the pride taken in such animals and of the substantial distances they travelled in order to be exhibited at shows – social history rather than art history.

  3. Barbara Says:

    And, perhaps, to illustrate that there is not that much distance between creatures, four-legged & two-legged.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Moo!

  5. Janet Says:

    Ahhhhh, the lone bull. There’s always one. Congrats on such a marvelous acquisition.

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes he might start another herd somewhere… :)

  7. Andrew Sheldon Says:

    It is good to see these paintings in their restored state. It is also good to know that they are ‘going home’. For more information about their painter, Richard Whitford, see http://www.whitfords.org.uk.

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Andrew, thanks for the link, and how interesting to see some more of his work, including portraits of rams.

  9. cheryl cunningham Says:

    I have in my possession, an original oil painting by r. whitford of a shorthorned bull. dated 1860. I am interested in finding a collector who would be interested in purchasing this artwork. He was the painter to the queen at this time..

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Cheryl, you could offer it to Andrew Sheldon, the Whitford descendant and expert (email can be found through the link shown above), or you could offer it for sale through a reputable auction house near where you live.

  11. Andrew Sheldon Says:

    For information, a version of my catalogue of paintings by Richard Whitford is now online at http://www.whitfords.org.uk. This is far more comprehensive than that which was available a couple of weeks ago.

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