This Year’s Sporting Art Auction Offers Racing Legends, Beautiful Landscapes, And A Bit Of Humor

In a year when nothing is quite normal, it’s nice to have a few things you can count on. For the Keeneland auction pavilion, the switch from horses to art is as reliable as the changing of the seasons. For the eighth year, broodmares and weanlings made their annual November parade through the auction ring while paintings and sculpture decorated the pavilion’s halls, awaiting their turn to change hands in the Sporting Art Auction.

While in previous years, the Sporting Art Auction sees paintings and sculpture auctioned from the iconic Keeneland ring, this year’s sale will be conducted virtually. Those who were at Keeneland for the November Sale may also have noticed fewer works of art lighting their passage between the café and the back walking ring, as organizer Cross Gate Gallery sought to display this year’s catalogue in smaller groups to discourage crowding from viewers.

Much like the sale that precedes it, the catalogue for the Sporting Art Auction varies a bit year by year.

“We want everyone to be able to find something that we like, so we do have 19th Century British, and we extend all the way up,” said Bill Evans Meng, gallery director for Cross Gate Gallery in Lexington, Ky. “There are a lot of contemporary painters. I’m 37 and everyone my age is buying the new things. [The catalog] is maybe is a little more contemporary this year but sometimes you have to go with what you can find.”

Meng said he aims to have a healthy mix of time periods, styles, and subjects each year. While most feature horses either in racing or foxhunting contexts, there are often a few pastoral scenes as well as a few of hunting dogs, farm creatures, or fowl.

A few works were commissioned to depict specific horses. A trio of portraits from well-known equine painter Richard Stone Reeves depict Law Society, Coup De Feu and Mr. Right, while a signed collection of 12 prints from Franklin B. Voss (no relation to the author) is a fond look back at the top runners of the 1920s and 1930s, including Man o’ War, Gallant Fox, Seabiscuit, and Discovery.

For Meng, works designed to immortalize a particular subject sometimes come along with the most interesting stories.

“The ones that are specific, they have a story and people like that,” said Meng. “I feel like all three of the Reeves this year, they had real connections to the connections. The one of the Coup de Feu was a father and son story – the father owned it and got his son started racing. Law Society was a big horse for Vincent O’Brien and of course shows his incredible training facility. The third Reeves, Mr. Right, came from the trainer and I got to talk to him a lot and he really liked the horse. When you do these specific ones, there’s always a story and I think people connect to that.

“Of course a lot of our clients are horsemen and they’re into bloodlines. They might know this was their horse’s great-great-grandsire and that means something to them.”

In a somewhat unusual twist, this year’s auction also features a human portrait from German/American artist Nicola Marschall of Daniel Swigert. Swigert and his Elmendorf Farm are two of the oldest names in the Kentucky Thoroughbred business, tracing back from the 1870s.

(We wrote about Elmendorf and Swigert in our Kentucky Farm Time Capsule series. Read that profile piece here.)

“When he was young he tried to build up what became Buffalo Trace Distillery and then he went on to become a great horsemen,” he said. “I knew about him, but I didn’t know enough about him to appreciate it when I saw the painting the first time [10 or 12 years ago.]”

Lot 120, Early Morning Exercise, Green Lane as painted by Peter Howell

Other pieces are looser or more interpretative, allowing an owner or fan to see their own favorite horse in the lights and shadows. Painter Peter Howell’s depictions of morning training at Keeneland and Newmarket are particularly good examples of this.

Then there are pieces likely to garner attention on name recognition alone. The catalog contains a number of sketches from the well-known Sir Alfred Munnings, as well as brightly-colored scenes from popular Henry Lawrence Faulkner and a landscape from Andrew Wyeth.

(Read more about Sir Alfred Munnings in this 2017 feature.)

There are also pieces with a sense of humor. Andrew Pater’s ‘The Empty Bowl’ features a hound next to his empty dish wearing the dry, humorless expression all pet owners have experienced when they’ve dared to come home late. ‘Antagonizing the Barn Cat’ from George Armfield shows a faceoff between an irritated tabby and a trio of terriers poised to hop and play. Then there’s Philip Eustace Stretton’s ‘Study of A Ginger Cat’ displaying an enormous orange feline upon a regal crimson cushion.

“I’ve chuckled myself walking by it,” said Meng. “We don’t get a lot of cat paintings, but we do have some clients that sort of got on a cat kick, so there you go. He’s sort of looking majestic.

“They kind of would paint these animal genre scenes like that, where you’d see them acting out. Animals are going to be animals. I think they’re something people can relate to, something lighthearted. Those do well, because people like to laugh.”

Lot 73, Study Of A Ginger Cat, 1908 by Philip Eustace Stretton

Art collectors, like breeders with an impressive base of broodmares, do not necessarily have a time clock on their investments. Some pieces may come to auction when an owner disperses their collection or as part of an estate sale. Other owners may look at the market and their particular piece’s merits and try to read the tea leaves, deciding if this is the time to benefit from an increase in value. Meng tells people that their decision should ultimately come down to their relationship with a piece – and for some, that means they may decide to rebuff his overtures to selling.

“That’s why we generally have 180 lots instead of 5,000 like at the Keeneland sale,” said Meng. “I tell people, you’re the one who has to love it. You’re the one who has to look at it every day. And if you love it, you shouldn’t let it go.”

See this year’s Sporting Art Auction catalog online here.

The post This Year’s Sporting Art Auction Offers Racing Legends, Beautiful Landscapes, And A Bit Of Humor appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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