Thomas Weaver

Thomas Morris’s Sheep Show at Barton-on-Humber, Lincolnshire

1810

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 1028 x 1286 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Bequeathed by Mrs F. Ambrose Clark through the British Sporting Art Trust 1982
Reference
T03438

Display caption

Robert Bakewell of Dishley near Loughborough was a pioneer in improving breeds of sheep and cattle to supply a steadily increasing demand for meat. As a result of his efforts England was said to have had '2 lbs. of mutton where there was only 1 lb. before'. Painted fifteen years after his death, Weaver's picture shows breeders at Dishley during the bidding for a season's use of rams from Bakewell's breed, which commanded high fees.

Gallery label, December 1989

Catalogue entry

T03438 RAM-LETTING FROM ROBERT BAKEWELL'S BREED AT DISHLEY, NEAR LOUGHBOROUGH, LEICESTERSHIRE 1810

Oil on canvas 40 7/16 × 50 11/16 (1028 × 1286)
Inscribed ‘T. Weaver Pinxt 1810’ b.r.
Bequeathed by Mrs F. Ambrose Clark from the collection of the late F. Ambrose Clark through the British Sporting Art Trust 1982
Prov: ...; (Rousuck gives ‘The Earl of Yarborough’ at this point, and it was presumably Rousuck who added a plaque (now removed) to the frame lettered ‘from the Collection of the Earl of Yarborough’; this must however be in error, since the present Lord Yarborough has no knowledge that this painting was ever in his family's collection and it is not in the record of pictures made in 1906 after the fire at Brocklesby); William S. Martin, Vermont, U.S.A. (? the American collector whose purchase of the picture in 1929, for £500, was recalled by Lord Balerno in 1971, in correspondence with the Editor of Farmer's Weekly: see Lit. below); E.J. Rousuck; F. Ambrose Clark by 1958; his widow Mrs F. Ambrose Clark
Exh: International Livestock Show, Chicago 1937 (no catalogue traced); Sporting Paintings, Museum of Modern Art Gallery, Washington D.C., December 1937–January 1938 (pictures not individually listed in catalogue); Tate Gallery, August–September 1982, and York City Art Gallery, March–September 1984, with other paintings from Mrs F. Ambrose Clark's Bequest (no catalogue)
Lit: [E.J.Rousuck], The F. Ambrose Clark Collection of Sporting Paintings, privately printed, New York 1958, p.268, repr. p.269; ‘Who has this great farming picture?’, ‘Editor's Diary’, Farmer's Weekly, 18 June 1971, p.34; ‘The Bakewell picture that went to America’, ‘Editor's Diary’, Farmer's Weekly, 19 November 1971, p.30 (background correspondence not preserved)

Robert Bakewell (1725–95) was a pioneer in breeding improved breeds of sheep and cattle to supply a steadily increasing demand for meat and (in his day) for fat. He was a tenant farmer at Dishley Grange near Loughborough, Leicestershire, where he pioneered irrigation and the cultivation of select fodder crops for grazing. As a stock-breeder, Bakewell was particularly successful with the ‘New Leicester’ or ‘Dishley’ breed of sheep which Weaver portrays here; they were finer-boned than the old Leicester breed and had far greater potential for producing meat and fat. W. Pitt in 1809 described the New Leicester sheep thus: ‘Their backs are broad and strait, their breasts are full, bellies tucked up, heads small, necks short, legs thin, pelts light and wool fine of its kind. They are quiet in temper and disposition, and capable of being fattened in a short time, on a small proportion of food, and to a great weight, in proportion to their size’ (General View of Agriculture in Count Leicestershire, quoted by Squire de Lisle, ‘Robert Bakewell’, Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society, cxxxvi, 1975, pp.55–62; for Bakewell's stockbreeding, see also Helen Harris, ‘Pioneer of Britain's Livestock’, Country Life, 26 June 1975, pp.1709–10).

Other contemporaries noted that within half a century, Bakewell's sheep ‘spread themselves over every part of the United Kingdom and to Europe and America’ and that thanks to Bakewell, England ‘has 2 lbs. of mutton where there was only 1 lb. before’ (quoted in DNB, i, 1908, p.942). Bakewell also produced new breeds of Dishley Longhorn cattle and of black draught-horses. The Dishley Society, already formed in Bakewell's lifetime, aimed to perpetuate the purity of his breeds.

T03438 was formerly called ‘Robert Bakewell's Ram-Letting’. The setting is reputedly the great barn at Dishley where Bakewell held regular displays of livestock and where he conducted, for high fees, the business of ram-letting, the first to do so on a large scale; though Bakewell's own farmhouse and farm buildings have not survived, it seems credible that Weaver has here portrayed the great barn at Dishley. But Robert Bakewell himself died in 1795, without issue, and Weaver's picture is dated 1810, fifteen years later; Bakewell himself cannot be portrayed here, or not from life. Was his ram-letting business carried on by the successor to his farm and livestock or, conceivably, by members of the Dishley Society? Some records of the Dishley Society are preserved in the University of Nottingham Library, but none are extant for c.1810, and earlier records throw no light on the subject of this picture (information kindly communicated by Mrs L. Shaw, Assistant Keeper of the Manuscripts).

Rousuck prints a so-called ‘key’ to the portraits in T03438, consisting of a list of sixteen names, numbered 1–16; but more than sixteen gentlemen are portrayed in the picture, and if a diagrammatic key once existed it cannot now be traced (and no engraving of the picture has been found). Rousuck's list is mostly of names of eminent agriculturists and scientists, and is as follows:

1. Thomas Bate

2. Mr. Davy, celebrated chemist

3. Sir Joseph Banks

4. Captain Barclay of Ury

5. H. Stafford

6. John Richardson (J.M. Richardson's paternal grandfather)

7. Sir John Sinclair

8. Arthur Young, Secretary to the Board of Agriculture

9. William Wetherill

10. Thomas Booth

11. Thomas William Coke, M.P.

12. Sir Charles Knightly

13. Charles Colling

14. Robert Colling

15. Mr. Waters of Durham

16. John Maynard of Eryholme, Darlington

Another list of seventeen names allegedly relating to this picture (a typescript, signed Edward N. Wentworth) is in the archives of the Institute of Agricultural History and Museum of English Rural Life, Reading; this list adds the name of Bakewell himself, and is differently ordered.

Efforts have been made to compare the portraits in T03438 with painted or engraved portraits of at least the more eminent of those whose names are listed by Rousuck and Wentworth, with no success; not even in the case of Thomas William Coke of Holkham, twice portrayed elsewhere by Weaver (in a portrait signed and dated 1809, in the Government Art Collection, and in the painting ‘Thomas Coke and his Sheep’, in the collection of the Earl of Leicester) can a likeness to any of the gentlemen portrayed in T03438 be found. Though Weaver is not a distinguished portraitist, this seems odd, and must reinforce doubts as to whether either list in fact relates to this picture. Such doubts have been expressed independently (in correspondence) by Keith Robinson, to whom the Keeper of the Museum of English Rural Life referred the Tate's queries, and L.M. Waud, formerly of the Ministry of Agriculture. Both Mr Robinson and Mr Waud point out that Rousuck's and Wentworth's lists are chiefly of men particularly interested in breeding dairy Shorthorn cattle, whereas T03438 depicts sheep, and Bakewell's Dishley breed of cattle were Longhorns. Mr Waud also doubts whether a ram-letting, which was evidently more like a cattle fair, would have been attended by such a small group of visitors. But even if Weaver's gentlemen are unidentifiable, the picture offers a lively idea of how a display of prize livestock was conducted in 1810 and of the sort of gentlemen who attended it.


Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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