Robert Bevan

Horse Sale at the Barbican


Not on display

Robert Bevan 1865–1925
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 787 × 1219 mm
frame: 1090 × 1444 × 93 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1934

Display caption

Bevan was influenced by Walter Sickert’s advice that artists should find subjects in everyday London life. This is one of his many pictures of horses. It shows a horse sale at Barbican, in Aldersgate in the city. The auctioneer stands in the decorated box in the background, surrounded by a large group of bidders. Horses were still common in London but the advent of the motor car had suggested that their days were numbered.The flat and textured colours of this work show the influence of the French Post-Impressionist artist Gauguin, whom Bevan met in Brittany in 1893.

Gallery label, July 2007

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Catalogue entry



While still engaged in making pictures of cab-yards, Bevan extended his interest in the London working horse and began to visit the auctions where they were sold throughout the capital. His earliest recorded horse-auction picture is A Sale at Tattersall’s dating from 1911 (private collection),1 and he continued making sale-subject paintings into the 1920s. Although they overlapped with his cab-yard series, the horse-market pictures eventually replaced them, and became the central focus of his artistic interest. Bevan appears to have been rather pricked by observations, such as the critic Frank Rutter’s, that his interest in the cab-horse was motivated by some sort of nostalgic desire to record it because it was dying out (see Tate N05911). Bevan’s son recorded that ‘he told me many years later when I asked him why he had given up painting hansom-cabs for which he was perhaps best known in these years, he was anxious not to be accused of sentimentalising an almost vanished feature of London life’.2 This is significant, because it indicates that Bevan’s interest in such horse subjects was in their realism and in their being illustrations of everyday working life and metropolitan experience. In a sense, both the cab and auction subjects were a kind of documentation of a London trade somewhat in the tradition of The Cries of London, the famous series of pictures by Francis Wheatley (1747–1801) which appeared as prints between 1793 and 1796, or the sociological investigations contained in Henry Mayhew’s influential study London Labour and the London Poor (1851).
Bevan’s son, R.A. Bevan, recorded that:
he rather relished looking like a man who had to do more with horses and hounds than with canvas and paint. The brim of his bowler hat was flattened, his overcoats had little buttons at the back of the waist ... He always looked at home at Tattersall’s and other places where the horse took the centre of the stage. He looked neither like a bohemian nor like a business-man ... As children we were very conscious of the importance of the horse in our father’s life. We were often allowed to go with him when he was making drawings for cab-yard and horse-sale pictures. In earlier years he took us, of course, by horse-bus, and we sat on the front seats on top so that he could talk horses to the driver. At Tattersall’s and Aldridge’s, the Barbican and Ward’s Repository there would always be a word or two with dealers and with handlers – and even with the bearded, top-hatted auctioneer – who all seemed rather surprised that anyone should think they were worth drawing.3

Subject and composition

Exhibition and reception

Robert Upstone
May 2009


Reproduced in Frances Stenlake, Robert Bevan: From Gauguin to Camden Town, London 2008, p.98.
R.A. Bevan, Robert Bevan 1865–1925: A Memoir by his Son, London 1965, p.17.
Ibid., p.20.
PRO BT /31/25241/106702 and HO 144/23010.
London Metropolitan Archives, City of London. Shelfmark: Photo.A 45:10 (cat. no. M0027695d).
Robert Bevan, Sketchbook IV.4.17, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
Reproduced in Bevan 1965, pl.42.
Frank Rutter, ‘Round the Galleries: The Goupil Gallery’, Sunday Times, April 1915.
Private collection, reproduced in British Drawings and Watercolours 1890–1940, exhibition catalogue, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London 1982. This is likely to have been a design for a print that was never executed.
Reproduced in Bevan 1965, pl.64.
Reproduced in Graham Dry, Robert Bevan 1865–1925: Catalogue Raisonné of the Lithographs and Other Prints, London 1968, no.34.
Reproduced ibid., no.35.
Reproduced in Bevan 1965, pl.76.
James Bolivar Manson, letter to Stanislawa de Karlowska, Tate Archive TGA 9210/1/4.

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