John Frederick Herring

Birmingham with Patrick Conolly Up, and his Owner, John Beardsworth


Not on display

John Frederick Herring 1795–1865
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 559 × 762 mm
frame: 655 × 856 × 75 mm
Presented by Paul Mellon through the British Sporting Art Trust 1979

Display caption

Herring was one of the most successful of animal painters working in the early 19th century. Traditionally a lowly genre, animal painting became more artistically ambitious in this period, and was exposed to a much larger public through exhibitions and the publication of reproductive prints. This painting commemorates the horse Birmingham’s win at the 1830 St. Leger at Doncaster. The fork of lightning in the background on the left is not artist’s licence, but a record of the fact that a violent thunderstorm raged during the race.

Gallery label, February 2016

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Catalogue entry


Inscribed ‘J.F. Herring. 1830’ lower right
Oil on canvas, 21 × 29 (53.2 × 73.7)
Presented by Mr Paul Mellon KBE through the British Sporting Art Trust 1979
Prov: Beaufort Hunt, the son of Birmingham's veterinary surgeon, by descent to Miss Mary C. Marsh; Richard Green, from whom purchased by Paul Mellon 1970.
Exh: Richard Green, Sporting Paintings, 1970 (13, repr.).
Lit: Egerton, 1978, pp.298–9, no.322; Christopher Neve, ‘Gift from a Galloping Anglophile’, in Country Life, CLXVI, 30 August 1979, p.584, repr. in colour, fig.1.
Engr: in aquatint by R. G. Reeve, published by S. & J. Fuller, March 21st 1831.

Birmingham, a dark brown colt by Filho da Puta out of Miss Craigie, foaled in 1827 and bred by Mr Lacey, was purchased for 55 guineas by John Beardsworth, and named after his new owner's native city. T.2361 commemorates Birmingham's only Classic win, the 1830 St. Leger at Doncaster, in which Patrick Conolly rode him to victory against the favourite, William Chifney's 1000-guinea Priam. The fork of lightning in the background on the left is not artist's licence, but a record of the fact that a violent thunderstorm raged during the race (J. S. Fletcher, The History of the St. Leger Stakes, 1776–1901, 1902, pp.228–31).

Owner, horse and jockey share the stage with equal honours in this picture (the version noted below, a smaller picture, echoes the composition of T02361 but lacks its high finish and what Christopher Neve, op. cit., perceptively calls its ‘steely veracity’). John Beardsworth, the owner, here portrayed in almost dandified dress of top hat, cut-away coat and nankeen trousers, was a self-made man who established a vast Repository and Carriage Mart described by Pierce Egan as ‘the Tattersall's of Birmingham’. The building accommodated 500 vehicles, with stabling for 140 horses; sales were held every Thursday. Beardsworth himself lived in considerable style, remarking that having won the gold, he considered himself entitled to wear it (Pierce Egan, Book of Sports, 1831, pp.113–20).

Patrick Conolly went on to win the Derby twice: in 1834 on Plenipotentiary, and in 1841 on Coronation. There is however little to record of Birmingham's subsequent career; Fletcher (op. cit.) relates that ‘his greatest accomplishment, next to having won the St. Leger, appears to have lain in his trick of following Mrs Beardsworth around her dining-table as if he had been a lap-dog or a tame cat’.

A version of T02361 measuring 13 1/2 × 18 1/2 inches was sold from the collection of Mr and Mrs Jack R. Dick at Sotheby's on 26 June 1974 (68, repr. in colour, bt. S. Lane; subsequently offered at Sotheby's, 21 March 1979, lot 149,

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1978-80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981

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