It falls on the religious holiday associated with St Stephen, patron of horses. In parts of Europe, celebrations still include ceremonial horseback rides and the blessing of horses.
This Boxing Day get into the equine spirit with a few horse-related antiques and artworks on offer around the UK.
The Billmyer-Conant collection of equestrian books
Earlier this month London bookseller Bernard Quaritch released a collection of more than 120 examples of hippological books dating back to the 17th century.
The Billmyer-Conant collection began with John Billmyer who started buying books while serving with the American Red Cross in Europe during the Second World War. Built up with his wife, Mina Conant, and later his daughter, the group includes works on riding, racing, hunting and horse-training.
The most extensive area of the collection covers the development of farriery into veterinary science over the past 500 years.
Highlights include Nicolas Beaugrand’s Le mareschal expert (1640), a rare edition of a work proposing horse remedies based on the zodiac, and the first English edition of Jacques de Solleysel’s The compleat horseman (1696), one of the most influential works on horsemanship.
The collection is valued at more than £100,000 but individual items are priced from £100-5000.
Horse racing, gaming, women and country houses
Early sporting artist James Seymour (1702-52) was a lively character. The son of a wealthy banker, he taught himself to draw using the pictures and prints in his father’s collection.
Contemporary diarist George Vertue wrote of him: The darling of his Father run thro some thousands – livd gay high and loosely – horse raceing gameing women & country houses. Never studied enough to colour or paint well, but his necessityes obliged him to work or starve. Thus his time passd. The latter part of his life in baseness and want of all necessaries and dyed in Town in the lowest circumstances & in debt.
Today, his drawings of horse heads after Tempesta and van Dyck are in the British Museum and his paintings appear in national collections such as the Tate.
Petworth dealership Rountree Tryon offers one of his pictures, A dark bay horse held by a liveried groom in a landscape, 1744, for £34,500. It is of the type of historical sporting artworks that have performed well on the open market recently, in sales such as Christie’s In the Field sale on December 12.
Rountree Tryon also offers pictures by celebrated equine painters George Stubbs (1724-1806) and Alfred Munnings (1878-1959).
Folk art statue
Horses are the subject for several folk art objects in Robert Young Antiques’ most recent catalogue. In this collecting field horses appear as elements of tethering posts, ‘kasa’ cups, naïve paintings, clocks and children’s toys.
This large sculpture, possibly made in Italy, c.1880, depicts a dark horse with pricked ears and stylised tail. It is offered for £1800.
Sandby on the spot
English map maker turned painter Paul Sandby (1731-1809) is known as ‘the father of English watercolour’ and specialised particularly in landscape scenes. These finished works were often populated by figures the artist sketched on the spot and then repurposed.
This study of horses is characteristic of those immediate studies. It is offered for £1400 by dealer Guy Peppiatt, and was published in the catalogue for the exhibition One Hundred Drawings and Watercolours.