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The Art of the English Setter

Click here to read the full article in our digital edition.

By Debra Lampert-Rudman

Count Noble’s impact on the American English Setter is legendary and his timing was perfect.

Perfect because Count Noble arrived in the United States from England in 1880, a time when dog shows and field trials were just establishing themselves throughout America.

Due largely to a “newly wealthy group of American sportsmen” early sporting activities and field trials, “and to a lesser extent conformation dog shows, created a demand for paintings of dogs,” according to A Breed Apart: The Art Collections of the American Kennel Club and The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog by William Secord.

Edmund Osthaus, painter of The Portrait of Count Noble, was born in Germany, studied painting at the Royal Academy, emigrating to Toledo, Ohio where he became an Instructor of Art, and later Director of the Toledo Academy of Fine Arts. Resigning as Director in 1893, Osthaus pursued his love of painting and field trials for the remainder of his life. A field trial Judge, as well as charter member of the National Field Trial Association (formed in Newton, North Carolina in 1895), Osthaus joined forces with well-respected English Setter breeder J.E. Dager in Toledo’s Maumee Kennels.

According to Secord’s book, Osthaus “painted for some of the most prominent sportsmen of his day, including Hobart Ames of Boston, Pierre Lorillard of New York and Harry Edwards of Cleveland.” Richard LeBeau, author of Count Noble: The Greatest Dog that Ever Lived recently mentioned in an email correspondence that Osthaus painted sporting dog commissions for “such wealthy patrons as the Vanderbilts and Morgans. President Grover Cleveland proudly displayed an Osthaus painting in his dining room.”

As noted by Mary R. Dawson, Carnegie Museum of Natural History Curator Emeritus, in Natural History of the Dog, “Count Noble was imported by David Sanborn of Michigan. Following Mr. Sanborn’s death, the dog passed to Mr. B.F. Wilson of Pittsburgh, PA.”

According to LeBeau, Benjamin Frederick Wilson and David Sanborn were close hunting friends. Sanborn received Count Noble from England in Michigan in April or May of 1880, aged about 8 months.

“Sanborn was not impressed with Count Noble as a young dog, and considered returning him to Llewellin. B.F. Wilson (a highly successful Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania banking, mining and transportation industrialist) offered to purchase the young dog and managed to persuade Sanborn to patiently develop the dog, which Sanborn did do, and the dog made a lasting impression from his earliest competitions.”

Dawson’s book goes on to state that, “starting in 1881, Count Noble established a highly successful career in field trials; this fame, followed by the excellent hunting qualities of his many descendants, helped establish the popularity of the English Setters as field dogs in this country.”

“The prize-winning dog by Ch. Count Winden ex RLLP Llewellin’s Nora KCSBN 7219 born 1879, Llewellins black/white/tan Count Noble KCSBN 10134 AKC 1509, was exported to America where he became a highly important sire and died 1891,” related Valerie Foss, UK Kennel Club General Committee member, President of National Gundog Society, 2010 Crufts Best in Show Judge, and breeder/exhibitor of the UK’s Elswood English Setters and Golden Retrievers, in a recent email. Foss’s information was obtained from English Setters Ancient and Modern by the great breed historian Margaret Barnes.

Yet eight years after Count Noble’s death, which was, in fact, memorialized with an obituary in the January 22, 1891 New York Times, his mounted skin was donated to the museum by Samuel Robert Wilson, one of B.F. Wilson’s sons; remounted by Frederick S. Webster (the first preparatory of the Carnegie Museum) and displayed with Pennsylvania bobwhite quail (the bird in its pure form, currently extinct) in a habitat group at the Carnegie Museum. Today, Count Noble’s taxidermied form is displayed at the Bird Dog Foundation Museum in Tennessee and Osthaus’ glorious portrait is displayed at the illustrious businessmen’s club, The Duquesne Club, Pittsburgh, PA.

“Count Noble was one of the most successful dogs of his era – the 1880s – when English Setters were being sought after by American dog fanciers. He contributed to the establishment of the breed in this country by siring 28 successful field trial dogs; the name “Count Noble” is to be found in the pedigrees of many winning English Setters to this day.”

“Osthaus had a huge reputation in the field trial world,” Secord noted in a recent phone interview. In his portrait of Count Noble, “parts are very exaggerated, like an illustration,” Secord said. “The pop-eyed look of the dog’s intense point; the crouching pose, as seen from below, is typical of the way he painted – drawing from his observations of dogs working in the field.“

Some Exciting English Setters in the Field: Emms, Muss-Arnolt, and Rosseau

John Emms was a late 19th/early 20th century British animal artist known for imparting a more painterly, impressionistic feel to his work. The viewer’s awareness of the paint and brushstrokes on the canvas surface contributed a feeling of great movement and power to Emms’ sporting dog paintings; a style perfect for depicting the English Setter in the field.

“One of the interesting things about Emms’ work is the olivey-blue-green that animates the dog,” Secord said. “In the case of ‘English Setters in the Field’ the blue-green is most evident in the background. Part of Emms’ brilliance is his ability to capture the dog’s anatomy in a few rapid strokes.”

German-born Gustav Muss-Arnolt emigrated to America in 1858; living in New York City when he was 32 years old, moving to Tuckahoe, New York in 1894. Very active in the art world, exhibiting at the National Academy of Design’s annual exhibitions, Muss-Arnolt was equally active in the dog world serving as a conformation dog show judge as well as on the American Kennel Club Board of Directors from 1906-1909. He created over 170 pen-and-ink illustrations for the AKC Gazette and wrote and illustrated several articles for Harper’s Weekly.

Muss-Arnolt’s dynamic depiction of the tricolor English Setter “Sylvan” “strikingly demonstrates the quality of the English Setter’s performance in the field. This painting is beautifully done,” Secord noted. “The intensity of the point, the distinct stop, along with a landscape painted in rich autumnal colors and the use of light and shadow accentuates the dog. Muss-Arnolt’s paintings are fabulous and the closest thing to the way the dogs actually looked in the field”
Although the painting has the dog’s name in quotes at bottom right, above the artist’s signature, it is not known precisely who this particular dog is or who commissioned the painting.

Percival Leonard Rosseau was born in Louisiana in 1859 and at the age of 35, left his business and went to Paris for six years of classical art training. While on a sketching trip down the Seine to Rolleboise with friends who painted in the style of the “Barbizon School,” known as a romantic, pre-Impressionistic style featuring subdued colors and a painterly style with obvious brushstrokes, Rosseau developed his style incorporating, “dapples and shimmering effects of light in nature”.

He began painting nudes and landscapes, however when he painted two pictures of Setters for the 1904 Paris Salon it is said he received more commission requests and sales than ever before. “A man should paint what he knows best,” Rosseau is said to have remarked,” and I knew more about animals than anything else…I…have at my fingertips the thorough knowledge of dogs necessary to picture them faithfully…” Rosseau’s work was recognized by both European and American sportsmen and social elite. President Roosevelt wrote to congratulate him on one of his paintings, while he also received commissions for portraits of purebred dogs, mostly setters and pointers, from sporting dog enthusiasts including Percy Rockefeller and Clarence Mackay in the United States.

American Kennel Club Executive Secretary James Crowley said recently that Rosseau’s 1906 painting, the large (57” high by 36” wide) Leda “is the most valuable piece in our collection.” According to Secord’s book, Leda may have been painted in France.

Susan Haney of the AKC Museum of the Dog provided materials which stated that Percy Rockefeller was to become “Rosseau’s most important patron,” and in 1916 he built Rosseau and his wife, Nancy, a house, studio and kennels at Overhills Club in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

A wonderful example of Rosseau’s style, “English Setter in a Field” authentically portrays the blue belton English Setter and may, in fact, be one of Rosseau’s own dogs. He trained his dogs in the field as well as in the studio, having them holding poses, “with few breaks for two to three hours in the morning, and then again in the afternoon,” according to his son Francis, quoted in Secord’s A Breed Apart.

Rex of Crossfell

British artist Reuben Ward Binks (1880-1950) was also painting during the heyday of burgeoning interest in purebred dog conformation and field trials and traveled in the circles of socially prominent dog fanciers. In fact, according to a Binks’ exhibition booklet produced by the Secord Gallery, Lorna, Countess of Howe actively encouraged Binks to specialize in sporting dogs and introduced him to members of the Royal Family and British upper class society.

Additionally, the Countess of Howe commissioned Binks to do an entire series of her sporting dogs and in a 1931 interview Binks is said to have stated that, “nearly all the prominent dog owners of England have given me commissions…Dr. Turton Price of Dundee, Scotland, whose ‘Crombie’ pointers and setters are so popular over here in America as well as elsewhere in the shooting and dog show worlds, has a large collection of my pictures…”

Depicted in a show pose set in a hilly landscape, Rex of Crossfell, was one of the “Crombie” setters.

According to Valerie Foss, Rex of Crossfell’s significance is as follows:

“Rex of Crossfell was by Sh Ch Marvel of Crombie ex owner’s Alice of Crombie born 4 March 1930 G. C. Atkinson’s blue Rex of Crossfell KCSBN 283NN (formerly Earl of Crombie ). Winner 3rd Open class Manchester 1932, the Judge D.E. R. Griffiths remarked that Rex was a ‘fine big raking setter with grand head, sound & moved well, was rather low in condition which made him appear ‘ leggy ‘ but I think will improve with age’.”

Ms. Foss went on to state that Mr. Atkinson bred the famous Ch Crossfell (also painted by R.W. Binks) a top sire & show dog & good worker. “He was offered £1,000 for him as a youngster from the USA but never regretted not letting him go,” Ms. Foss added.

Ch. Blue Dan of Happy Valley

Judge, author, and life-long English Setter fancier Marsha Hall Brown recently recounted her acquisition of the “Mitten Collection”; several English Setter portraits by CC Hendee, a British artist painting in America in the early 20th century; which included a portrait of one of America’s most important English Setters of this era.

“Dr. A.A. Mitten of Happy Valley Kennels in Philadelphia commissioned CC Hendee to record the likenesses of many of his English Setters,” Mrs. Brown wrote in a recent email. “In 1929 Hendee began his lengthy project with the painting of Ch Blue Dan of Happy Valley. By 1930, Blue Dan was the first English Setter to rise to national prominence.”

According to Mrs. Brown, Happy Valley Kennels included Crombie imports as well as Happy Valley domestic bloodlines and employed a full-time kennel staff.
Mrs. Brown added that, according to Craig S. Sparkes’ The History of English Setter Show Dogs in America, Dan won 24 AKC Bests in Show between 1930 and 1933, ranking fifth best of all time among English Setters. In addition to his all-breed Best in Show, Dan won Best American Bred in Show at Westminster in 1931 and 1933. He also won the Sporting Group at Westminster in 1931 and 1933, second in the Group in 1932 and took Group 2s at the Morris and Essex Kennel Club shows in 1931 and 1932.

“Blue Dan’s 1931 appearance at the Garden and the BIS judging was widely reported and is one of the legendary Westminster stories,” Mrs. Brown added. “In an April 1970 article in Popular Dogs magazine, Arthur Fredrick Jones, the Dean of the Dog Writers, wrote the following:

“In 1931 Tyler Morse did BIS. In that final she (the wire Fox Terrier, who was BIS in 1930) met, among others, the English Setter Ch. Blue Dan of Happy Valley, owned by Dr. A.A. Mitten. Well as it happened, the gallery fell in love with Blue Dan’s way of coming and going and when the judge gave the BIS to the Wire, the wave of booing was comparable only to some of today’s hippie demonstrations.”

Walter Fletcher, covering the event for the New York Times, also was surprised by the negative reaction from the knowledgeable and usually polite crowd. Fletcher reported, ‘I’ll never forget the cheers for the flashy blue-ticked English Setter.’”

Flashy in the field as well as in the show ring, the English Setter in art, and in reality is, as Mrs. Brown states in her The Essence of Setters reference work, “a dog built for the hunter on foot…and when it demonstrates its correct form in the show ring, it is a vision of symmetry and elegance.”

In quoting Albert Payson Terhune expert Dr. Wayne Lewis in my November/December 2013 article “The Collie: A Scottish Charmer”, I inadvertently credited “The Heart of a Dog” and “My Friend the Dog” to author Eric Knight. These two titles were, in fact, written by Albert Payson Terhune. I regret this error.

Short URL: http://caninechronicle.com/?p=46318

Posted by on Apr 15 2014. Filed under Current Articles, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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