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John Ferneley Senior 1782-1860
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John Ferneley Senior 1782-1860

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An Egyptian Pony, “Whisperer” with two Irish Terriers and a goat in a landscape by a stream in an Irish landscape.


Oil painting on canvas 28 x 36 inches in a giltwood frame.


Signed and dated 1809.


Provenance: [presumably Lord Belmore of Castlecool: see below]............with Laggatt Brothers, London, from whom acquired by John McDougald of Ontario, Canada, by whom sold 1999


Literature: [presumably] the artist's account book no.16, where listed as “Lord Belmore of Castlecoale (sic), May 1809, Portrait of a brown Egyptian Pony 3 feet by 2 feet 4 inches, £10 10s 0d.”


John Ferneley was born at Thrussington in Leicestershire, in the midst of the English Hunting Shires. His precocity attracted the attention of the Duke of Rutland, who persuaded his wheelwright father to apprentice him to the great Sporting Painter Ben Marshall. The latter became a life-long friend as well as teacher. Little of Ben Marshall's broad and vigorous technique is evident in his pupil's later free and refined style, though some of Ferneley's early works, such as those painted on his visits to Ireland between 1808 and 1812 have echoes of his Master. This is apparent in the present painting.

Ferneley’s most important early patron had been the young Duke of Rutland for whom he had painted several pictures in the years up to 1808, and it was the Duke, whose father had been Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who gave him introductions to the sporting aristocracy f Ireland. He first arrived in Ireland in late 1808/early 1809, and stayed about a year, returning to Thrussington in November 1809.

He had painted for such distinguished patrons as the Lords Lismore and Rossmore, the Earl of Belmore and the Trenches and O’Callaghans. He contrived to earn and save £180, enough to pay for his marriage to Sally Kettle shortly after his return to England.

They stayed in England only a few weeks, returning to Ireland in the Spring of 1810, where they were received with generosity and affection by the clients of the previous year. In five months they amassed a small fortune of over £200 (compare this with a labourer’s weekly wage at the time of eight shillings (£0.40)).

Ferneley is without question the best sporting artist of his day working in Ireland, and yet few indeed of his paintings of this prolific period survive and are identified today. There are still two such in the collection of the Earl of Belmore at Castle Coole, and they are also of “Egyptian Ponies”, like the present painting, called “Plenipo” and “Buffer”. (Information kindly provided by John, the present Lord Belmore)

Ferneley rapidly established a distinguished English and Scottish clientèle, and he and Herring were the Sporting Painters par excellence in the period 1820-1850. Ferneley was himself a keen sportsman, and he tells us in his (eccentrically spelled) surviving letters of his exploits in the field. Throughout most of his working life he kept a meticulous Book of Accounts, which enable the vast majority of his work to be traced and identified. This makes him the best-documented - not to say one of the most satisfying - Sporting Artists in the heyday of hunting. He died on June 3rd 1860, and was buried at Thrussington. His sons, John Jr and Claude Lorraine, were competent sporting painters, though not in the same exalted class as their father.

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