Benjamin Marshall

Portraits of Cattle of the Improved Short-Horned Breed, the Property of J. Wilkinson Esq. of Lenton, near Nottingham


Not on display

Benjamin Marshall 1768–1835
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1015 × 1271 mm
frame: 1200 × 1468 × 95 mm
Bequeathed by Mrs F. Ambrose Clark through the British Sporting Art Trust 1982

Display caption

The pioneer cattle breeder John Wilkinson was a tenant farmer at Lenton near Nottingham, whose castle appears in the background of Marshall's picture. The castle park was let out as grazing land at the time. A contemporary engraving identifies the principal animal as 'the celebrated bull Alexander', seen here with three cows and a calf.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry


Oil on canvas 40 × 50 (1015 × 1271)
Inscribed ‘B. Marshall 1816’ bottom centre
Bequeathed by Mrs F. Ambrose Clark from the collection of the late F. Ambrose Clark through the British Sporting Art Trust 1982
Prov: ...; S.C. Yeomans, sold anonymously Christie's 9 May 1930 (116) bt Ellis & Smith, from whom purchased by F. Ambrose Clark
Exh: RA 1818 (225); Outdoor England, Century Club, New York, February–April 1941 (15); 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)
Engr: Etching and aquatint by R. Woodman, pub. R. Woodman 20 March 1818, commonly known as ‘The Celebrated Bull Alexander’ from its writing-engraving: ‘This print of the celebrated bull Alexander & the rest of the cattle, the property of Mr. J. Wilkinson of Lenton, near Nottingham, is respectfully inscribed to Genl. The Honble. Francis Needham’ (D.A. Boalch, Prints and Paintings of British Farm Livestock 1780–1910: A Record of the Rothamsted Collection, Harpenden 1958, p.17, no.44, pl.XXII)
Lit: W. Shaw Sparrow, A Book of Sporting Painters, 1931, pp.87–8, repr. facing p.88; [E.J. Rousuck], The F. Ambrose Clark Collection of Sporting Paintings, privately printed, New York 1958, p.173, repr. p.172; Aubrey Noakes, Ben Marshall, Leigh-on-Sea 1978, p.144, no.135

John Wilkinson of Lenton (active c. 1807–52) was one of the pioneers in breeding Shorthorn cattle. He was a tenant farmer at Grove Cottage farm in the village of Lenton, about a mile and a half from the centre of Nottingham (now part of the city suburbs). In T03433 Marshall depicts one of his Shorthorn bulls, identified in Woodman's engraving as ‘The Celebrated Bull Alexander’, with three cows and a calf, grazing in Nottingham Park, with a view of Nottingham Castle in the background on the left. Shaw Sparrow comments on Marshall's representation of the celebrated bull Alexander that ‘his head is too small to be in scale with his body, and he looks almost as mild as a henpecked Sultan’.

After a visit to Wilkinson's herd in 1852, the Scottish Shorthorn breeder Amos Cruikshank declared that it was ‘the finest herd of Shorthorns I had ever beheld’ (H. Robinson, Features of Nottinghamshire Agriculture, Nottingham, reprinted from the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, LXXXVIII, 1927, p.11). On 20 April 1854, the sale of ‘the principal stock of a superior breed of prime shorthorn cattle, bred by the late M. John Wilkinson’ was conducted by Mr Strafford, auctioneer; it was attended by the most eminent cattle breeders in England, Ireland and America. ‘Fifty cows and heifers, and fifteen bulls, were sold, the average price realised by the former being £57.0.od., and by the latter, exclusive of one or two calves, £47. The aggregate of the sale exceeded £2,900. Bull calves from this stock, shortly after the sale, were sold for 150 guineas’ (J.J. Godfrey, The History of the Parish and Priory of Lenton, 1884, p.147. We are indebted to Adrian Henstock, Principal Archivist, Nottinghamshire Record Office, for this information). Later accounts of the Wilkinson herd are included in the Livestock Journal, 20 August 1886 and 17 July 1891.

Nottingham Castle and Park were owned by the Duke of Newcastle in Wilkinson's day, but the Castle was largely uninhabited or partly let, and the Park was let out as grazing land. General Francis Needham, the dedicatee of the engraving of Marshall's painting, was almost certainly a member of the wealthy Nottingham family of Needham who lived at Lenton House.

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

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