Illustrated companion

James Seymour was the son of a wealthy banker and jewel merchant who was also an amateur draughtsman. The son inherited his father's talent for drawing, but not for making money, as the contemporary diarist George Vertue recorded: 'Jimmy Seymour ... from his infancy has a genius to the drawing of Horses - this he pursued with great Spirit, set out with all sorts & of modish extravagances ... the darling of his Father run thro some thousands - livd gay high and loosely - horse racing gameing women &c ...' Seymour eventually appears to have ruined both himself and his father, who was declared bankrupt in 1736. He then turned to painting full time to earn a living and it is a nice irony that having lost a fortune to horses they then became his means of subsistence. Seymour's style was not very sophisticated: his paintings have a slightly 'primitive' or 'naive' quality, apparent in the flat perspective and stiffness of the figures, that is the result of a lack of formal art training. On the other hand, he had a strong sense of design and his pictures such as this one have great charm and vitality. The stylised hounds, jumping the wall and running up to the huntsman holding the dead fox, make a dynamic and decorative pattern of movement across the canvas; Seymour similarly makes use of a stylised repetition of hounds to create another vivid pattern round the huntsman, which inescapably focuses attention on the central incident in the picture. On the right, Seymour shows one of the horses frankly 'staling' (urinating), a nice touch which adds pungency to his evocation of the flavour of eighteenth-century rural life. The setting is the Berkshire estate of the 4th Baron Craven, who is the figure on the left on the dark grey hunter. In the background is Ashdown House, one of his country seats. In the foreground, Seymour has painted some of the sandstone boulders known as 'Sarsens' that still characterise this part of the country. On the hill on the right, two greyhounds course a hare, again painted in a stylised way to form a distinctive pattern on the horizon.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.39