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Sawrey Gilpin RA 1733-1807
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Sawrey Gilpin RA 1733-1807

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A portrait of the black and white English Waterspaniel “Tim” standing by a pond in an evening landscape

 

Oil painting on canvas 58 x 66 inches (147.3 x 167.6 cm) 58 x 66 in (147.3 x 167.6 cm)
and contained within its original giltwood frame size 73 ½ x 65 ½ in (186.7 x 166.2cm)

 

Provenance: By family descent at Crichel House, Somerset, until the present. The painting has never previously been on the art market

 

The English Waterspaniel was an ancient breed which enjoyed great favour amongst the shooting fraternity for centuries. It was steady of gait, determined and affectionate in character, and with an enthusiasm for water-work in retrieving and putting up all types of waterfowl and duck. It was always ready for work in the coldest weather, helped by its dense and waterproof coat. Its popularity declined during the nineteenth century as the sport of shooting changed to driven shooting rather than individual wildfowling, and its role was supplanted by the enthusiastic and fast (not to say wild) English Springer Spaniel, now the ubiquitous shooting dog. The breed, sadly, died out at the beginning of the 20th century, though its genes partly survive in its headstrong cousing the Irish Waterspaniel and the curly-coat retriever.

Sawrey Gilpin was a member of an old Cumberland family who chose a career in sporting painting, at which he was encouraged as a young man by the great Duke of Cumberland who had suppressed the Jacobite rising of 1745. Gilpin, though centred on London, always retained his Northern links, and had as patron many northern sportsman, like the sporting fanatic Colonel Thornton of Thornville Royal for whom he painted numerous pictures.

Gilpin has suffered from being under the shadow of his incomparable contemporary George Stubbs, but he emerges as a leading horse and animal painter of a competence which is always reliable and occasionally inspired. He is an important link between the early English School of Wootton, Tillemans and the like, and the later painters exemplified by Ferneley and Herring. He was the president of the Society of Artists in 1773, and was elected RA in 1797.

A clubbable man, he was popular with his fellow Royal Academists. He frequently collaborated with them, adding portraits of favourite animals to numerous pictures by Barret, Walton, Romney, Zoffany, Reinagle and even the young Turner. He was the teacher of Thomas Gooch, another prolific animal painter and with whose work Gilpin’s is sometimes confused.

It is perhaps the strongest tribute to the very high quality of the present painting that it was until very recently thought by scholars to be the work of George Stubbs ARA, an attribution that was finally rejected when a signed preliminary drawing was discovered in a London auction at Sotheby's which is signed by Sawrey Gilpin:

 

altSawrey Gilpin RA: “Tim” (Pencil and chalk drawing, signed and inscribed)

 

 

Highly acclaimed during his own lifetime, the critic for the Morning Herald commented in 1794, 'Mr. Gilpin is inferior to Mr. Stubbs in anatomical knowledge, but is superior to him in grace and genius.'


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