The Victorian animal painter John Emms (1843-1912) was never happier than when surrounded by dogs, preferably on the sporting field. So, it is no surprise that his very finest work features hunting dogs as in The Bitch Pack of the Meath Foxhounds, one of the leading paintings in Bonhams 19th Century and British Impressionist Art ‘behind-closed-doors’ sale at 2pm on 3 June in London. It is estimated at £180,000-250,000.
Bonhams Head of Victorian Paintings, Charles O’Brien explains: “Emms had the rare ability to give real life to his subject and was at his very best when painting dogs. In this unusually large work – it’s 40 x 60 inches – his confident use of fluid brush strokes gives weight and solidity to the different physical characteristics of the dogs as well as their individual temperaments. We know that Emms used to walk to the kennels every day and return to his studio with one hound after another so he could make detailed preliminary sketches which he then worked up into the overall composition.”
Emms was a convivial man and cut a flamboyant figure, always dressed in a long black cloak and matching wide brimmed hat. He had many important and influential clients and when times were good, after selling a painting, he would take his wife Fanny, their three daughters and son up to London to stay in the best hotels and live life to the full. A stroke in the early 1900s, however, prevented him from working and put an end to the high life.
Hunting with hounds is a tradition in Ireland that goes back to ancient times and features strongly in Celtic literature and legend. There is a pack recorded in the Meath area as early as 1723, although the Meath Hunt itself dates from 1817. The Bitch Pack of the Meath Foxhounds was painted in 1896 when the famous John Watson was Master, his mastership spanning 1891 to 1908.
Bonhams holds the world record for a work by Emms; The New Forest Buckhounds, sold at Bonhams New York in 2006.
The sale will be a live ‘behind-closed-doors’ auction. An auctioneer will be present on the rostrum, and bids will be accepted in the following formats: online, on the phone, or by leaving an absentee bid. All bidding will be done remotely in accordance with the latest government guidelines.