The 20 works depicting some of the most famous horses in the history of British racing made up the core of a private collection initially begun in 1849 by the MP John Dunn Gardner (1811-1903) of Denston Hall, Suffolk, and later added to by his son Algernon Dunn Gardner (1853-1929). Together they raised £432,600, a hefty chunk of the overall sale total of £750,000.
The highlight of the event was a panoramic view recording George I’s only visit to Newmarket Heath in 1717 by the Anglo-Flemish sporting and topographical artist Peter Tillemans (1684-1734).
The 2ft x 5ft 2in (61cm x 1.55m) oil on canvas is believed to have been commissioned by the Hon Charles Colyear, later 2nd Earl of Portmore (1700-85) c.1722. Colyear, whose status rose under the Hanoverians, is pictured riding in red alongside the king as a string of horses, including the renowned thoroughbred Flying Childers led by a groom in yellow, is brought for inspection.
The ‘father of the turf’, Tregonwell Frampton (1641-1727), is seen riding with a companion as the town of Newmarket and the distinctive towers of Ely Cathedral loom beyond the party of nobles and dignitaries. Among those identified on the gilt frame is the royal interpreter, as the king, having spent most of his life in Germany, famously spoke very little English.
The picture came by descent in the Colyear family before it was sold (as by Tillemans’ contemporary John Wootton) at Christie’s in 1913 to dealer Fores of Piccadilly for 210 guineas. Algernon Dunn Gardner bought it in July 1916, for £850. Estimated at £40,000-60,000 (a sum that reflected paint loss in the left-hand area of the sky and a generally lukewarm market for sporting pictures), it sold to a UK private collector for £125,000 (plus 25% premium).
Another Tillemans oil of George I at Newmarket watching two horses racing is in the Berkeley Castle collection, while the Mellon collection includes Portmore with his trainer watching George I’s horses at exercise painted by Wootton.