‘The Duchess’, Winner of the Great St. Leger at Doncaster, 1816
About the work
This aquatint print shows a winning horse and jockey of the Great St. Leger Stakes at Doncaster.
Army officer, MP for Grimsby (1768-74) and racing enthusiast Anthony St Leger (c.1731-1786) had his own racecourse at his Park Hill estate in Firbeck, South Yorkshire. In 1776, St Leger proposed a race with a 25 guinea sweepstake for three-year-old horses, run over 2 miles. The first race, held on Cantley Common outside Doncaster, was won by a horse owned by Charles Watson-Wentworth, second Marquess of Rockingham (Prime Minister in 1765-66 and 1782). When it was later suggested that the race should be named after him, Rockingham reportedly replied: ‘No, it was my friend St Leger who suggested the thing to me - name it after him’. The St Leger stakes is still run annually at Doncaster racecourse and is one of five British classic flat races.
About the artist
Born in Surrey, John Frederick Herring senior was the son of an upholsterer and fringe-maker for coaches. He was initially employed as a coach painter, which led him to become a coach driver, but he also had a successful career painting St Leger and Derby horserace winners. In about 1830 he moved to London and, aged 38, received his first formal art training under Abraham Cooper. He later received several royal commissions, becoming Animal Painter to HRH the Duchess of Kent in 1846. Despite this, his move to London was not financially successful until he gained the patronage of William Taylor Copeland, head of the Spode Porcelain factory in Stoke-on-Trent. Herring produced several paintings for him, including designs for Spode china.