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Sir Edwin Landseer's 'A Stag at Bay'

18th August 2020.

In the Pantheon of sporting artists there are several names which will always set the pulse racing for collectors and enthusiasts alike. Names such as George Stubbs, Alfred Munnings and Sir Edwin Henry Landseer.

It is therefore with some excitement that Tennants will offer a drawing by Landseer in the Sporting Art Sale on 19th September. The pencil and crayon vignette, presumably set in Landseer’s beloved Scotland, depicts the exciting denouement of a day’s stalking, with a pair of hounds poised to take down the stag at the edge of a loch.

Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) was a painter and sculptor who achieved unrivalled popularity as an animal painter in Victorian England and became Queen Victoria’s favourite artist. From an early age Landseer excelled in his artistic endeavours, and at the age of 13 he exhibited in the Royal Academy. He studied under his father, an engraver, and the history painter Benjamin Robert Haydon who encouraged him to study animal skeletal and muscular form through dissections. He excelled at painting anatomically correct animals, whom he often ennobled with human characteristics and frequently set in dramatic contexts.

As his fame grew, Landseer’s appeal crossed class boundaries. Whilst his large scale, majestic oil paintings were commissioned by royalty and aristocracy, engravings published by his brother were hung in middle class homes throughout the country.  His ability to capture the spirit of an animal appealed to Victorian sentimentality, and amongst his most popular works were his depictions of dogs as faithful servants.

Landseer had a deep love of Scotland, which he visited annually from 1824 dividing his time between drawing and hunting. The sublime Scottish landscape forms the backdrop for many of his major works, such as ‘Monarch of the Glen’, which was purchased by the National Galleries of Scotland for £4m in 2017.  

The theme of stag and hounds is frequently found in Landseer’s oeuvre. Not only was this a subject Landseer knew well from his highland holidays, but a descent into depression in his thirties turned his mind to darker subjects. Visceral depictions of the battle between predator and prey, between life and death reflected Victorian preoccupations; they were allegories of man’s struggle and reflected the newly proposed theory of survival of the fittest.  Landseer imbued his paintings with a pathos, a sense of the sublime which invoked in the viewer feelings of danger and the wild power of nature. The present sketch ably conveys to the viewer, in just a few strokes of a crayon, the lip-curling ferocity of the hounds and the proud power of the stag, just out of reach, in the moments before the wound in its flank weakens it enough to succumb.  

‘A Stag at Bay’ is being offered with an estimate of £6,000-8,000 (plus buyer’s premium).

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