June 2018: My Visit to Newmarket
Written by Melanie Wright
The BRS invited me to run an Equine drawing workshop as part of their staff training week in June. So on this visit I enjoyed a fun time, mainly at the School, meeting more of their dedicated and hardworking team and enjoying their company at a staff barbecue, in the newly designed courtyard, at the training premises. I also enjoyed a visit to The Jockey Club, to see their fabulous collection of racing art.
Early morning out in the fields
I was up and about early on the workshop day and so as there were no training courses at the yard itself, I wandered out past the gallops, to the School’s large field, where all their horses were happily turned out and enjoying the fine weather. It was a beautiful morning, with the Suffolk skies at their best. Those famous big skies, that have influenced so many artists, a deep cerulean blue, with luminous, pillowy white clouds creating sharp contrasts of light and shade, as they scudded over the landscape. The horses, all turned out together, were mooching around in groups and pairs, sometimes playing and ‘horsing’ around and sometimes quietly mooching about and grazing. Silhouetted against the light, they formed dramatic dark shapes in the distance, somehow minimised in scale by the vastness of the sky above them. Interesting. A lovely calm and relaxed ambience as I wandered amongst them. I always love time spent in out in this way, observing horses off duty. Their interactions and relationship to each other, and patterns of mood and movement across the land, are a fascinating dynamic to watch and to paint.
The Jockey Club Art Collection
Later in the morning, Nick Patton, Managing Director of The Jockey Club Estates, very kindly took me round the stunning collection of racing paintings and sculpture at the Jockey Club itself. It was wonderful to see this stunning collection, hung and displayed in such beautiful rooms, and to very best effect. For me, it was of course a thrill to see classic masterpieces by Stubbs, Munnings and Herring, hung together, outside of the often sterile environment of a formal art gallery exhibition. After my time with the horses in the fields earlier in the morning, I was particularly aware of the landscape, skyscape compositions of many of these paintings and the importance of the ‘negative shape’ of a big sky, creating counterbalance and space within an otherwise highly detailed composition. There was an unfinished working oil sketch of one a Munnings painting, a portrait of ‘Buchan’, which particularly intrigued me. The initial colour palette working brushstrokes and first marks, clearly visible around the edge of the picture, together with his pencilled notes, giving an insight into the progression of the painting from the bare ground and first layer of paint, to the more highly finished detail of the horse itself in the centre. The finished painting was also hung in the same room. As often is the case, the initial sketched version contains an immediacy and freshness of vision in comparison. So interesting to compare the two.
The sense of history in the Collection as a whole is palpable…. I was fascinated by some of the earlier Victorian and Georgian period paintings, which splendidly illustrated the racing style of those days, through the spectators and riders costumes, the jockeys riding style and also the architectural details of the racecourses themselves. A perfect example of this was the enormous oil painting ‘The Lawn at Sandown Park’ by William Adderley-Sleigh (1884), hung on the staircase, which i could have happily studied all day!.
The Collection also features a number of interesting contemporary portraits, of Derby Winners, and key racehorse trainers such as Sir Henry Cecil and Sir Mark Prescott. Notable amongst these is the superb portrait of Frankel, by Susan Crawford.
It will take another visit for me to take in all the sculpture and bronzes, but I did notice outside in the formal garden, a beautiful bronze of Sariska, the 2009 Epsom Oaks winning filly, owned by Lady Bamford, whose Daylesford operation is just down the road from my studio in Oxfordshire.
It was a most inspiring visit and one that I was particularly keen to do early on in my residency, to see some of the very best of horse racing art, in the heart of Newmarket. And to be inspired by it! There is an updated, new publication of the Jockey Club Art collection due in the autumn, which will be a book to look forward to.
An Equine Drawing Workshop at The BRS
This was organised as part of the BRS staff training week and the idea was to keep it simple and fun, as many of the participants may not have picked up a drawing pencil since childhood!. But they were keen to have go. Fantastic. Andrew Braithwaite, patiently held one of the School’s racehorses as a life model for us. In the time we had, we concentrated on sketching the horses’ ears and then his eyes in lead pencil, with a focus on describing their unique shape and position within the horses’ skull. I was impressed by the enthusiasm and have a go attitude and there were plenty of lovely drawings to show for it. And the prize of a bottle of bubbly going to Alison Harper, one of the BRS yard instructors, for her sensitively drawn horses’ head.