‘Surplice’ beating Canezou’ St Leger, 1848

by Henry Alken Snr

This painting shows the photo-finish result of the St Leger race in 1848, held at Doncaster Racecourse. The composition of this work has a drama and intensity that is as true today of horse racing as it was in the mid-1800’s and is achieved by the strong, horizontal composition that sees the horses entering the picture plane from right to left in a ‘snap shot’ of action, with the frozen crowd emphasising this effect. The winning horse, Surplice is described as ‘the colt of his generation’, being a thoroughbred racehorse who won both St Leger in 1848 and The Derby Stakes.

Painted towards the end of his life in 1848 this work represents his confidence as a painter and as an illustrator of sporting news stories.

DIMENSIONS: (unframed) 16.0 x 20.0 in./ 40.6 x 50.8 cm
SIGNATURE: Signed titled and dated (lower right)
MEDIUM: Oil on canvas

Catalogue No: 5857 Categories: ,

Henry Alken Snr was an English painter and engraver, renowned for his sporting scenes, particularly those of the hunt and of horse racing.

Private Collection, United Kingdom

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Alken was born into a family of sporting artists living in London, including his two brothers, George and Samuel jnr Alken, and his father, Samuel Alken, who he studied under from a young age. Later Alken trained with miniature portraitist, John Thomas Barber whose work greatly influenced Alken’s handling of figures. He went on to exhibit two of his miniature portraits at the Royal Academy Exhibition in 1801 and 1802 before moving on to practice oil painting and illustrating.

Following his marriage in 1809, Alken began a successful career as a graphic journalist, working under the pseudonym of ‘Ben Tally-Ho’.  In 1815 he visited Waterloo; his prints of the battle, as well as his portraits of Wellington, Blucher and the Marquis of Anglesey, were published by S and J Fuller the same year.

In 1816, Alken wrote and published The Beauties and Defects in the Figure of a Horse.  His other works as a freelance illustrator included The National Sports of Great Britain, 1821, and the more famous Life and Death of John Mytton, 1837 and caused his popularity to grow especially amongst wealthy families in horse racing and hunting circles.

Alken painted hunting, racing and coaching scenes and a miscellany of other sports; many of these pictures were produced in pairs and sets.  Stylistically, he influenced both his own family of painters and many later sporting artists.

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