Benjamin Marshall

Sir Charles Bunbury with Cox, his Trainer, and a Stable-Lad: A Study for ‘Surprise and Eleanor’


Not on display

Benjamin Marshall 1768–1835
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 470 × 638 mm
Presented by Paul Mellon through the British Sporting Art Trust 1979

Display caption

This unfinished oil sketch is a preparatory study for a painting of two horses, Surprise and Eleanor, in a private collection. The three figures here form a group on the right in the finished picture. They are apparently assessing Eleanor's chances of success before the start of a race. The filly's owner, Sir Charles Bunbury, at the centre of the group, was a prominent figure in the racing world of the time.
Marshall's output consisted predominantly of horse-racing scenes. He was somewhat unusual as a sporting artist in the considerable attention he paid to the likenesses and characters of human figures. This is perhpas as a result of his early training under the portrait painter Lemuel Francis Abbot (c.1760-1802).

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry


Oil on canvas, 18 1/2 × 14 1/4 (47 × 36.2)
Presented by Mr Paul Mellon KBE through the British Sporting Art Trust 1979
Prov: ...; Arthur Ackermann & Son, from whom purchased by Paul Mellon, 1966.
Exh: Derby Day 200, Royal Academy, 1979 (3.4, repr. p.46); British Sporting Paintings, Fermoy Art Gallery, Kings Lynn 1979 (18).
Lit: Egerton, 1978, no.204, pp.193–4.
Repr: Roger Longrigg, The History of Horse Racing, 1972, p.72, in colour (the central figure wrongly identified as Cox instead of Bunbury).

A study for ‘Surprise and Eleanor’, 1801 (43 1/2 × 60 ins, coll. Stephen C. Clark Jr., Virginia, USA, repr. Basil Taylor, Animal Painting in England, 1955, pl.44). The finished picture depicts a moment before the start of a race whose runners include Bunbury's bay filly Eleanor, portrayed with jockey up in the centre, and Mr Mellish's Surprise, shown on the left. The three figures in T02365 form a group on the right in the finished picture, which shows them assessing Eleanor's chances of success. The study was probably painted early in 1801, since Cox the trainer died in the spring of that year, just before the start of the Epsom meeting in which Eleanor won the Derby on 21 May 1801 (the first filly to win in the history of the race) and the Oaks the next day. Cox's last words were reputedly ‘Depend on it, that Eleanor is the hell of a mare’ (Roger Mortimer, The History of the Derby Stakes, 1961, ed. 1973, p.37). Since just that sort of reassuring opinion is what he (on the left in the study) seems to be conveying to Eleanor's somewhat apprehensive owner Bunbury (in the centre), Marshall may of course be commemorating the trainer and his legendary phrase in a posthumous portrait.

Sir Charles Bunbury (1740–1821), 6th Bart., M.P. for Suffolk 1761–84 and 1790–1812, was more prominent as a racing man than as a politician. He played an important part in extending the authority of the Jockey Club, of which he was regarded as ‘the Perpetual President’. With his friend the 12th Earl of Derby, he was co-founder of the Derby, a toss of the coin deciding whether it should be called the Derby or the Bunbury Stakes. Bunbury himself won the first Derby in 1780, with Diomed, and won the Derby twice more, with Eleanor in 1801 and with Smolensko in 1813.

Bunbury was a friend of Charles James Fox and a member of the Literary Club, acting as one of the pall-bearers at Samuel Johnson's funeral. Reynolds's portrait of him at the age of twenty-seven, engraved by James Watson, shows the good looks and shrewd eyes which Bunbury retained when he posed for Marshall some thirty-five years later.

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

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